'Fiddler on the Roof' tour beautifully balances the bitter and sweet

 
 
Updated 12/21/2018 1:18 PM
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  • Israeli actor Yehezkel Lazarov plays Tevye, the tradition-bound milkman in the national tour of "Fiddler on the Roof," running through Jan. 6 at Chicago's Cadillac Palace.

    Israeli actor Yehezkel Lazarov plays Tevye, the tradition-bound milkman in the national tour of "Fiddler on the Roof," running through Jan. 6 at Chicago's Cadillac Palace. Courtesy of Joan Marcus

"Fiddler on the Roof" - ★ ★ ★

For milkman Tevye, tradition means stability. Without it, the garrulous everyman insists, his life and the lives of his family and friends would "be as shaky as a fiddler on the roof."

Yet, the beloved musical "Fiddler on the Roof," by composer Jerry Bock and lyricist Sheldon Harnick, adapted from Yiddish writer Sholom Aleichem's stories, reveals the Jewish patriarch to be more progressive than he realizes.

The ability to reconcile old and new ideas is an admirable quality, one which Israeli actor Yehezkel Lazarov conveys with warmth, gentle humor and irresistible glee in the touring production now in Chicago that grabs audience members by the lapels with the glorious chord that heralds the opening of "Tradition." And director Bartlett Sher's fresh, energized Broadway revival doesn't let go until the plaintive coda that concludes Bock's haunting, Slavic and klezmer-inspired score.

The show opens with an unnamed man (Lazarov) -- perhaps one of Tevye's great, great grandchildren -- skimming what appears to be an ancestor's diary while standing beneath a sign that reads "Anatevka."

Shrugging out of his coat to reveal the fringes of a prayer shawl, Lazarov dons a hat and morphs into a most agreeable, unaffected Tevye. Instantly we're transported to 1905 and the small Russian village where Tevye lives in near poverty with his wife Golde (the potent, understated Maite Uzal) and their five daughters.

Tevye (Yehezkel Lazarov), left, and his wife Golde (Maite Uzal), right, reflect on their daughter in the poignant "Sunrise, Sunset" as part of the "Fiddler on the Roof" Broadway tour
Tevye (Yehezkel Lazarov), left, and his wife Golde (Maite Uzal), right, reflect on their daughter in the poignant "Sunrise, Sunset" as part of the "Fiddler on the Roof" Broadway tour - Courtesy of Joan Marcus

The three oldest are of marriage age, but their expectations for a suitable husband -- which Mel Weyn, Ruthy Froch and Natalie Powers winningly express in the shimmering "Matchmaker, Matchmaker" -- differ from their parents.

Tzeitel (Weyn) rejects wealthy butcher Lazar Wolf (Jonathan Von Mering) -- a man more decent than he appears -- for nervous young tailor Motel (Jesse Weil). The assertive Hodel (Froch) is drawn to idealistic outsider and budding revolutionary Perchik (Ryne Nardecchia).

Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick's beloved musical "Fiddler on the Roof" returns Chicago for the holidays.
Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick's beloved musical "Fiddler on the Roof" returns Chicago for the holidays. - Courtesy of Joan Marcus

Meanwhile, bookish Chava (Natalie Powers) finds her soul mate in the Russian gentile Fyedka (Joshua Logan Alexander). Here, however, the incensed Tevye's ties to tradition win out over his grudging acceptance of changing times, and he rejects the couple.

Exile and estrangement add a sorrowful note to this 1964 musical which balances bitter and sweet as deftly as its titular fiddler. So do designer Michael Yeargan's foreboding set pieces: Bare trees against a brick wall, towering wooden slats that recall prisoners' barracks and the ominous sound of an approaching train all suggest the tragedy that awaits the next generation of Europe's Jews.

And yet, "Fiddler on the Roof" also embodies unrestrained joy. It's evident in the rollicking drinking song "To Life;" the jolly fantasy "If I Were a Rich Man," merrily performed by the most agreeable Lazarov; and the jubilant wedding feast.

The famed bottle dance is but one example of Hofesh Shechter's exhilarating choreography in Broadway in Chicago's "Fiddler on the Roof."
The famed bottle dance is but one example of Hofesh Shechter's exhilarating choreography in Broadway in Chicago's "Fiddler on the Roof." - Courtesy of Joan Marcus

Following the contemplative "Sunrise, Sunset" (simply sung against a rose-colored backdrop), Tzeitel and Motel's wedding celebration erupts into a frenzied affair capped by the exuberant "bottle dance," which is among several wonderful numbers pairing Christopher Evans' recreation of Jerome Robbins' original dances with Hofesh Shechter's witty, zesty choreography.

Joy gives way to sorrow as the first act comes to a close, setting the stage for Tevye and his family to contemplate life outside of Anatevka. Tradition will once again clash with the times, yet Tevye -- like his people -- will persevere in the wake of attacks and exile.

That's made clear as the production ends where it began, with Tevye's unnamed descendant contemplating the past before heading into the future.

• • •

Location: Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St., Chicago. (800) 775-2000 or broadwayinchicago.com

Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday and Friday; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday, through Jan. 6. No performance Dec. 25; no 7:30 p.m. performance Jan. 6

Running time: About two hours, 40 minutes including intermission

Tickets: $25-$98

Parking: Paid lots nearby

Rating: For most audiences

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