“Fiddler on the Roof,” one of the most beloved Broadway musicals of all time, took to the stage of the Luhrs Performing Arts Center on Nov. 10. Fiddler first opened on Broadway in 1971 and won nine Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
However, the show’s legacy is much more complicated through the lens of a 2022 audience.
“Fiddler on the Roof” is the story of a Ukranian village and how one particular family is living in its current political climate.
One of “Fiddler’s” biggest struggles is that it lays out its cards right away. “Tradition,” “Matchmaker” and “If I Were a Rich Man” are the show’s first three numbers. For some in the audience who know nothing else of the show, the show gives everything they came for in the first 20 minutes.
“Fiddler” lacks a classic 11th-hour number and Act Two drags on, despite being just shy of an hour. I found myself leaning forward in the final few scenes wondering, “Is it over now?” The somber nature of the show bars it from having any sort of happy ending, but it feels like the last scenes trail off into nowhere.
At first, the story seems outdated — are we really sitting here watching a 40-something father decide who his daughters can and cannot marry? But as the show goes on, it becomes upsettingly timely. Women being told what they can do with their bodies is far more relatable than it should be for a musical that first opened on Broadway in pre-Roe 1964. In post-Roe 2022, Tevye’s daughters are the millions of American women now under the control of restrictive abortion laws.
As the cast noted in brief remarks after the performance, it is impossible to perform “Fiddler” without also thinking of the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. The musical takes place in the fictional Russian village of Antevka, not far from the Ukrainian border. Just like millions of Ukrainians over the past year, Tevye and his family are eventually forced to leave their home.
In reality, the format of “Fiddler” is far more outdated than the plot. When planning a national tour, a show’s creative team should strongly consider if their show has appeal to an audience beyond just the Broadway community. An average audience is not going to stay engaged for a decades-old, hours-long show. Act One alone was nearly an hour and 45 minutes. “Fiddler” would benefit from a 21st-century rewrite to cut out unnecessary dialogue or entire scenes.
At just about three hours, “Fiddler” is simply too long. It takes a spectacular musical to keep audiences captivated for three hours, and the show falls short.
Despite the complicated material, this production’s performances were incredible. This specific cast, however, did have several standout performances.
Jonathan Hashmonay, who played Tevye, was a great casting choice. He was born to play that role. The sign of a great Tevye rests almost entirely on the five minutes of “If I Were a Rich Man,” and Hashmonay delivered.
Tevye’s oldest daughter Tzeitel, played by Randa Meirhenry, and the tailor Motel, played by Daniel Kushner, showed the romantic connection that Tevye and wife Golde lacked.
Overall, “Fiddler on the Roof” is an acquired taste to theater lovers and non-theater lovers alike. The songs are done well but could be reformatted to ensure that the audience is captivated throughout the entire show.
The Luhrs Performing Arts Center will host another Broadway tour, “Anastasia,” on Feb. 8, 2023.