Fiddler on the Roof -- Theater Review

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Hoo-hah. Such a performance. Such a show. You wouldn't believe how good both can be until you see Chaim Topol as Tevye the milkman in that most bittersweet of musicals, "Fiddler on the Roof."

Topol, of course, played the part in Norman Jewison's 1971 film adaptation and was nominated for an Oscar for his trouble. That was about 2,500 performances ago and, as the saying goes, he could probably do the role in his sleep.

Nonetheless, by some mysterious mixture of magic and professionalism, Topol keeps the performance fresh. Not just fresh, mind you, but deeply felt and movingly delivered down to the soles of his knee-high peddler's boots. Topol can break a line down into six different parts and allow each part to tell a different story. This is a legendary performance, the likes of which you don't see much of anymore.

Adding to the pleasure of this national touring production, a first-rate cast and director Sammy Dallas Bayes stay true to Jerome Robbins' inspired staging and choreography. The dances are lovingly re-created, full of passion, color and, as Tevye might put it, tradition.

Tradition, you might remember, is the show's recurring theme, and there's no time like the present -- a time of upheaval and dramatic change second to none -- to re-examine that theme. Over and over, Tevye is faced with the dilemma of which values (and daughters) to hold on to and which to change (or give in to). It's a problem he doesn't really solve, but he certainly is forced to choose. Sound familiar?

That's one reason the show holds up as well as it does. Another is Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick's brilliant score ("If I Were a Rich Man," "Matchmaker, Matchmaker," "Sunrise, Sunset," "Tradition" and the touchingly sung "Do You Love Me?") and Joseph Stein's wonderfully witty book, so true to the wry tone of Sholem Aleichem's source material.

Standouts in the cast include Susan Cella's faithful but exasperating wife Golde, Mary Stout's roly-poly and nosy matchmaker Yente and David Brummel's Lazar Wolfe, the disappointed butcher. The three eligible daughters -- Tzeitel (Rena Strober), Hodel (Jamie Davis) and Chava (Deborah Grausman) -- are charmingly played and sung. Colby Foytik is a strong presence as Perchik, the student radical to whom Hodel loses her heart, and Eric Liberman is perfectly cast as Motel the tailor.

Venue: Pantages Theatre, Hollywood (Through Aug. 9)
Cast: Chaim Topol, Susan Cella, Mary Stout, David Brummel, Rena Strober, Jamie Davis, Deborah Grausman, Erik Liberman, Colby Foytik, Eric Van Tielen, Joel Bernstein, Gary Brintz
Book: Joseph Stein
Music and lyrics: Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick
Director: Sammy Dallas Bayes
Lighting designers: Ken Billington, Jason Kantrowitz
Scenic designer: Steve Gilliam
Costume designer: Tony Ray Hicks
Sound designer: Duncan Robert Edwards
Music director: David Andrews Rogers
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