Fiddler on the Roof is based Sholem Aleichem's stories about life in the Jewish village of Anatevka in czarist Russia of 1905. The story centers on a milkman, Tevye, and his family, five daughters and a long-suffering wife. The musical begins with the rousing song “Tradition” which establishes the basic theme of the musical, the gradual erosion of tradition by encroaching modernism and the pogroms of the Czar. The story is told with gentle Jewish humor and an Award-winning score by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick with a well-crafted book by Joseph Stein. It was the first musical to pass the 3000-performance mark and remained the longest running musical on Broadway until the advent of Lloyd Webber. The hysterically funny Zero Mostel originated the role and it is his performance that had remained etched in my memory.
In 1967 a little known Israeli actor, Topol, assumed the role in London and eventually he was chosen to play the lead in the 1971 movie adaptation by Norman Jewison. Topol has gone on to play the role worldwide for more than 2500 performances. He is currently on a “Farewell Tour” which features the original direction and choreography by Jerome Robbins. When I first saw the movie I didn’t like Topol — too serious, I thought.
Zero Mostel ruled my memory. Only recently did I revisit the film and found I was enchanted by Topol’s portrayal and looked forward to seeing him live on stage at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood. Well Topol is phenomenal in the role. When he made the film he was a young man but now he is mature, wiser, and wizened but full of energy and verve. His portrayal is detailed, subtle, and funny as well as enormously touching. What he presents is a fully dimensional character. His performance is not to be missed.
Topol is surrounded by a worthy company with Susan Cella as Golde, Mary Stout as Yente (delightful), David Brummel as Lazar Wolf, Rena Strober as Tseitel, Jamie Davis as Hodel, Deborah Grausman as Chava, Erik Liberman as Motel (superb), Colby Foytik as Perchik the student, and Eric Van Teilen as Fyedka. One of the joys of this production is to see a fully professional cast. Too often the cast in local productions is made up of young men in beards although there are some here too, necessitated by doubling of roles. David Andrews Rogers does the musical direction that has wonderful new orchestrations by Larry Blank. Fiddler on the Roof plays the Pantages Theatre until August 9. Don’t pass up the opportunity to see Topol as Tevye.
Ed. note: a cast name correction noted in the Comments has been made in the text.