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Fiddler on the Roof
by Rob Kendt

Rosie O'Donnell gets no star's entrance in Fiddler on the Roof, the cast that she recently joined in the supporting role of Golde, Tevye's stoical wife. Instead, the stocky, voluble television icon trots out dutifully in half-light with the chorus at show's opening and takes her place in the opening tableau of "Tradition." It is only when O'Donnell steps out, as part of a small group of mothers, to trumpet her role in making a "proper home" that we recognize that familiar cherubic visage under the kerchief and apron.

This is not exactly Rosie's turn, in other words. And audiences who've already written off director David Leveaux's stark, wintry production are unlikely to rush to see, or revisit, this Fiddler, which has struggled at the box office despite a brief surge early this year when croaky, endearing Harvey Fierstein took over the role of Tevye. (The show has announced a January closing.) That's a pity, because this much-dismissed revival merits a serious reevaluation and a wider audience. If it was originally deplored for
©2005 Carol Rosegg
Harvey Fierstein
& Rosie O'Donnell in
Fiddler on the Roof
lacking warmth and humor, it has them now in O'Donnell and Fierstein, respectively. More importantly, though, the tensile strength of Leveaux's conception remains as clear and taut as a violin string.

Leveaux has successfully reimagined this classic as a hardscrabble folk operetta, closer in feeling to Brecht and Weill than to Rodgers and Hammerstein. For all the sweet-tempered ballads and that leaven the minor scales of Jerry Bock's poignant score, the poor Jews of the Anatevka shtetl are more like the Joads than the Von Trapps. And even with Fierstein lightly invoking the winking, shrugging posture of the American Jewish comic tradition, this is still a show with a haunted heart--a pogrom nipping at its heels and a dream of a homeland disturbing its sleep.

In this context, O'Donnell is admirably restrained, even tight-lipped. It's a performance defined and determined more by physicality than personality, mostly to its benefit. Her stout frame matter-of-factly unflattered by costumer Vicki Mortimer's house dresses, O'Donnell has a blunt economy of movement that's both matronly and self-possessed. It doesn't hurt that she looks like she could kick Fierstein's Tevye up and down the stairs; Fierstein is accordingly, and amusingly, cowed. This shifted balance of power gives a bittersweet sting to their second-act duet, "Do You Love Me?" It's one of Golde's few moments in the spotlight, and O'Donnell's emphatic gesticulating betrays her eagerness to make it count. But it remains a lovely, ambivalent consideration of middle-aged marriage in a show otherwise touchingly besotted with its young lovers.

Story continues below


©2005 Joan Marcus
Harvey Fierstein in
Fiddler on the Roof
In the latter department, a few new performers bring welcome freshness to the suitors of Tevye's daughters: Michael Therriault makes an ardent and intensely sunny Motel the tailor, while Paul Anthony Stewart smartly plays against the heartthrob factor with the rebel student Perchik, which of course makes him all the more appealingly swoony, particularly with the fine, yearning ballad "Now I Have Everything."

Kevin Stites' onstage band sounds marvelous, like a dream café orchestra, and Jonathan Butterell's musical staging, which liberally references the original Jerome Robbins choreography, retains its folksy force. It may be that Tom Pye's woodsy, homespun set, lit in often harsh whites by Brian MacDevitt, goes one step too far in that it gives the game away: This is a temporary resting place for harried nomads, the set says. What's worse, it's twilight in these woods. That may also be true of this underappreciated, foreshortened Fiddler. But like the villagers who snatch what joy they can from an unforgiving world, this Fiddler is making the most of its stop here while it lasts.

Fiddler on the Roof
Music by Jerry Bock, Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, Book by Joseph Stein
Directed by David Leveaux
Minskoff Theatre

 
Print This Story / Send the Story to a Friend / 10/13/2005 4:37:00 PM

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