Fiddler on the Roof is a classic. The story of Tevye, his daughters and his community have been a staple of musical theater since its premier in 1964. The movie musical from 1971 has ensured that generations of theater-lovers can experience this fantastic show, but there is nothing quite like seeing it in person.
There are some changes made to the revival production currently touring the country—some good, some bad. But really, the things that drive this production are the same things that always drive this show—the story and the community of Anatevka.
What struck me in this production is the power of the original story. We are all pretty familiar with it by now—a poor milkman lives in a small Jewish community in Russia with his wife and five daughters around the time of the Russian Revolution. He is a devoted father, husband and servant of God, but his life is turned upside down when his daughters one by one start breaking with tradition and finding their own husbands based on love rather than societal norms.
This story is so familiar by now that it’s easy to overlook how unusual it is. Fiddler on the Roof tells the sweeping story of the lead up to the Russian Revolution and First World War, but it chooses to tell that story on a very small scale. The show focuses on one family in a tiny village. It’s not a show about war or revolution, it’s a story about family and how the choices of the women in that family shape its future. Yes, it’s also a story about Tevye and his reactions to the changing world around him. But what struck me in this production was that despite depicting a highly patriarchal society, the plot is driven by the choices of women.
Now, that’s not what the director of this revival meant to highlight. The changes to the set design, choreography and wordless additions to the start and end of the show are supposed to draw a correlation to modern-day refugees and similar problems in our world today. Those things are certainly there and noteworthy, but they seem to detract from the powerful story of the show.
The changes are interesting but they’re not necessarily better than the original. On the other hand, they’re not worse either. It’s just different. In a show all about discarding longstanding traditions, maybe a little change is a good thing.
Fiddler on the Roof is playing now through May 26, 2019 at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts, 255 S. Almaden Boulevard. The show runs about two and a half hours with one 15-minute intermission. Tickets range $43-$153.
Photos courtesy of Joan Marcus