Another production of Fiddler on The Roof? It sounds crazy, no? Well, not actually. Since the musical’s award-winning, critics-and-audience- delighting debut in 1964, productions have flourished and multiplied around the globe. Cleary it has a lot going for it: great songs, an admirable book, colorful characters and a specific ethnicity. No wonder Pittsburgh CLO decided to give it another try. Yet, this version, directed by Jack Allison, looks based on a belief that the show can carry itself instead of becoming a fresh take. And Allison has had outstanding results in Point Park Conservatory productions of She Loves Me (also by Fiddler’s Bock and Harnick) Carousel, Assassins, On the Town and more. Here he doesn’t do equally well.
Joseph Stein’s book has exceptional, imaginative ideas. Moreover Jerry Bock wrote wonderful music, reaching even beyond predicable ethnic harmonies. And Sheldon Harnick created many very adept lyrics. But any production needs heart and soul; that seems missing.
At the center is Lewis J. Stadlen as Tevye. The versatile, talented actor, with a string of impressive credits, makes the character a thing of shreds and patches rather than somebody specific. Tevye could be charmingly simple, or loveable, or goofily comic. Stadlen gets none of that. And, as if influenced by his lack of definition, performers in other significant roles seem to be going through the motions, although with skill and polish. Since many of us know this show well enough to not only recognize the plot but even some of the lines, this becomes more like a visit to a museum than encountering engaging theatre. Emblematic: expressionless Lucas Fedele, frequently visible as the Fiddler, never moves his fingers over the strings. Almost an automaton.
The ensemble superbly dances Mark Esposito’s recreation of Jerome Robbins’ choreography. Moreover, Lauren Worsham sings beautifully as Hodel as does Nick Verina in the role of Perchik, the student from Kiev who comes to love her. As for acting, David Perlman makes the tailor Motel Kamzoil appealing and believable. So does C.M.U. grad Hunter Ryan Herdlicka portraying the Russian Fyedka who courts Hodel’s younger sister Chava. Plus Pittsburgh's Tim Hartman convincingly conveys the Russian Constable’s conflicting emotions.
That conflict dovetails with the many significant, dramatic dimensions which Stein put into his book, including an astonishing ending which goes against most musicals’ traditions. It reinforces the sad underpinnings of the life of such Jews in Tsarist Russia at the turn of the last century. Stein also tellingly touches on the stirrings of revolt at that time and place. And he reminds us of other changes threatening the status quo even among such tightly knit communities as Anatevka. What he wrote makes this much more than standard fare.
Not surprisingly, the original production got the 1965 Tonys for best book, musical and score. That makes it worth trying again, even if Allison and his cast don’t make the best of what’s there.
Fiddler on the Roof continues through July 22nd at Benedum Center. 412/456-6666 or pittsburghCLO.org.