Theatre Review: ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre

The National Touring Company of “Fiddler on the Roof.”

There were moments so quiet, you couldn’t believe you were in a sold-out theatre.

That’s the power of the iconic musical “Fiddler on the Roof,” on stage at Shea’s Performing Art Center to November 4.

Perhaps it’s the reflection on recent events across our country that made some of those pensive moments in the show particularly poignant. The Fiddler story is – at its heart – already somber yet there’s an underlying hope for resilience. But this night in the theatre felt different somehow, more thoughtful, like the connection between late 19th century Imperial Russia and 21st century America is still present.

There were moments so quiet, you couldn’t believe you were in a sold-out theatre.

This is the 2015 staging and it’s glorious. The stage is softly lit for most of the show, almost gray tones, with few and rare pops of bright. It sustains the mood, almost eerie, maybe foreboding.  There’s a tone-setting twist: the show opens in a deserted train station and a lone passenger in his red traveler’s anorak paging through a tour book. Once the jacket is doffed, with a flip of his prayer shawl and a hat (“we always wear hats”), he is Tevye, majestically portrayed by Israeli actor Yehezkel Lazarov.  He brings us to his beloved home in Anatevka, a Russian shtetl, where tradition is still revered. Hence the opening number, ‘Tradition’ is a joyous explanation of the roles of the papa, the mama, the sons, and the daughters.

The younger generation is ready to blaze new paths. Tezye and wife Golde have five daughters to marry off, and the eldest three may want to make their own decisions. Their signature song, ‘Matchmaker, Matchmaker,’ is less wistful and more like a challenge to the town Yente to find their perfect matches.

And so it goes. Changing times are challenging, and a man of strong faith like Tevye struggles. His monologues to God are the backbone of the script, where he implores God about his lot in life (‘If I Were a Rich Man’) and events happening  to his family and in their village.

Whether you’ve seen other stagings of ‘Fiddler’ or grew up with the movie, the songs are all familiar, beloved, and sing-able.  Composer and lyricist Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick respectively created a score for the ages. There’s joy in ‘To Life,’ and a reverence in the ‘Sabbath Prayer.’ Motel, about to wed Tevye and Golde’s daughter Tzeitel, is in awe of his new life and his ‘Miracle of Miracles’ is a celebration. Golde’s feistiness is briefly tempered when Tevye asks ‘Do You Love Me.’ Watch the gentle shift in body language as this song ends: the sweet hand clasp is a moment of beauty. Daughter Hodel’s rich voice is plaintive as she sings about marrying and traveling ‘Far from the Home I Love.’

As the village changes and dissolves, our beloved characters scatter, to build new lives in new places. It’s a new world, where men and women dance together, they chose their own spouses, women learn to read. We’re left to wonder about faith, cultural, and traditions.

This is a top-notch cast. Lazarov’s Tevye is strong, hearty, with a stunning and powerful voice. Maite Uzal as wife Golde is his perfect foil, the pragmatist to his sensitive side. Carol Beaugard is a stitch as Yente the matchmaker, the busybody. The sons and daughters and ensemble villagers are all shoulder to shoulder strong: their dancing is lively and spirited.

Two things to note in the playbill: Shea’s president Michael Murphy’s Welcome (page 8) is articulate and thoughtful and gives context to the production. This is refreshing. The Who’s Who in the Cast listed Buffalo native Olivia Gjurich as a villager, Fruma-Sarah, and as an understudy. She’s the daughter of familiar stage actors Greg and Mary Coppola Gjurich and is following in their performing footsteps. In that family, it’s a Tradition.

Running Time: 2 Hours 30 Minutes with one 15-minute intermission.

“Fiddler on the Roof” runs until November 4, 2018 and is presented at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre. For more information, click here.