So much tradition.
The touring Broadway revival of Fiddler on the Roof, now in Denver, starts with “Tradition” and remains faithful to that cause until the final curtain. Fresh choreography brings new life to a show that’s been playing on a stage somewhere in the world since it opened on Broadway in 1964.
But the traveling Fiddler, playing in Denver for a short run, is true to the script, to the characters and to the fans who know the lines as well as the actors on stage.
The equivalent of theatrical comfort food, this Fiddler rolls out course after course of the mild humor, touching interplay and comfortable introspection that generations of theatergoers have loved it for.
Despite a book and coming from genre of musical theater that can’t help but appear dated, stellar cast members and the catalogue of popular songs and stage moments create a Denver show that shouldn’t be missed.
Yehezkel Lazarov brings new depth and overflowing charm to the role of Tevye, the world’s most famous poor, kvetching dairyman from the early 20th Century hole-in-the wall village of Anatevka in Russia. He deftly handles the tricky balance of Tevye’s humor, corniness and honesty.
Just as rounded is Maite Uzal as Golde, Tevye’s exhausted and domineering wife. Uzal also brings depth to what could easily become a caricature. Maite’s Golde is stern, vulnerable and believable.
The Denver production is beholden to every line of the original show about an impoverished Russian Jew whose meager life is turned upside down as his children go out into the world and his own world implodes as anti-semitic terrorism moves in.
After half a century, Tevye’s story is still compelling. And the shtick of illustrating Victorian Era, rural Jewish life without mocking or romanticizing it still works as a musical.
The show has problems, though.
Built to travel, sets, blocking and choreography feel too prepackaged. It’s too often as satisfying as having dinner from a Whole Foods charcuterie. Lots of quality ingredients and some favorite entrees are still just pre-cooked food no matter how much you dress it up.
Spinning furniture and an obsession with sweeping the floor come across as odd afterthoughts in a show with enough talent to offer up more.
There are more than a few awkward moments and castings in a show coming from Broadway that should never have been packed up for the tour.
Michael Hegarty, as a relatively youthful Rabbi, inexplicably comes across as daft. Jesse Weil creates a typically funny, young and timorous Motel, the tailor who breaks tradition to marry Tevye’s daughter. But in one scene, Motel makes a silly dive under a milk cart out of trepidation. The move was so Carol Burnett showish that it stood out for the rest of the scene.
With so much talent, too, in creating an expressive and workable set, it was distracting to see the town butcher’s dead wife, Fruma-Sarah, rolled out on an awkward stilt contraption during the famous Tevye dream scene. The scene is the pinnacle of the show’s comedy. It’s where Tevye recalls a fake dream about an other-side visit from his wife’s dead grandmother to warn off the arranged marriage of their oldest daughter to the town butcher.
Even more awkward was how Carol Beaugard seemed to protest her lines as Yente, the town’s busybody matchmaker, instead of act them out. Not only was the performance distractingly robotic, she became the only member of the Russian village to appear to have been raised with a Brooklyn accent.
All that can be set aside, however, with inventive choreography by Hofesh Shechter that honors the original Jerome Robbins dancing and production — and really does make it better. The cast of dancers themselves are stellar and memorable individually and as a company.
For those who’ve never seen the show, this production is worth staking out. For audiences who make the trek to Anatevka a ritual, it’s a rewarding trip.
FIDDLER ON THE ROOF
Through June 16 at the Buell Theatre at the Denver Center for Performing Arts, 1350 Curtis St. Tickets start at $35. Visit denvercenter.org or call 303-893-4100.