The prolonged ovation which greets Topol’s first entrance in Fiddler On The Roof confirms that this Farewell Tour, starring the man whose name has become synonymous with that of its lead character, is an event of the first order. As Tevye, the milkman of Anatevka, Chaim Topol gives a brilliant performance in an absolutely superb revival of the 1964 Broadway classic.  That the production which surrounds him is of Broadway caliber elevates this Fiddler to must-see status.

There’s truly something special about seeing the man who starred in the 1971 film version (at the ripe old age of 35) returning for his farewell appearance as Tevye. Israeli superstar Topol has played the part over 2500 times, adding layer upon layer to his performance, and making it the definitive interpretation of the role.  Rich does not even begin to describe Topol’s work in Fiddler On The Roof, The Farewell Tour. Whether wistfully imagining life as a rich man, or gleefully explaining the “dream” that convinces him to let his older daughter marry a lowly tailor, or chatting with God about this or that, Topol gives a towering, multi-colored performance.

Fiddler is, however, much more than just a one-man show, and surrounding Topol is a sensational (and huge!) all-Equity cast, in a show that is not even a smidgen dated 45 years after its Broadway debut. Joseph Stein’s book about a community of Jews living in the Russian shtetl of Anatevka in 1905 resonates every bit as powerfully in 2009 as it did in 1964. Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick’s songs are every bit as memorable as they were when Broadway audiences first heard them.  “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” “If I Were A Rich Man,” “To Life,” “Sunrise, Sunset,” and “Do You Love Me?” are just five of Bock and Harnick’s creations to have achieved classic status, and hearing them sung by Topol and his costars is like meeting old, dear friends.

To direct this Fiddler (and reproduce Jerome Robbins’ magnificent original choreography), Troika Entertainment could not have picked a better man than Sammy Dallas Bayes. Bayes was dance captain and played Yitzuk in the Original Broadway Cast, portrayed the Fiddler in the 1976 Broadway revival, and reproduced Robbins’ choreography in the 1990 Broadway revival starring Topol. Bayes doesn’t try to “reinvent” Fiddler, thank goodness. His staging respects the original, all the while adding imaginative bits here and there as only someone with Bayes’ experience can. 

Dances are beautifully staged and performed, the wedding sequence (including the fabled “Bottle Dance”) being the most thrilling I’ve seen yet.  (It certainly helps to have an ensemble of Broadway/Equity triple threats performing Robbins’/Bayes’ dances.)  There’s also a terrific “The Dream” sequence, featuring an amusing Julie Brooks as Grandma Tzeitel and an appropriately scary Sean Patrick Doyle as the very imposing 12-foot tall Fruma-Sarah.  (David W. Gilleo plays the bottom half.)  “Sabbath Prayer” is exquisitely staged, filling the set with Anatevka families united reverently around Sabbath candles. “To Life” (La Chaim!) is yet another showstopper. 

In Susan Cella, Bayes has found the perfect Golde to Topol’s Tevye.  Cella has just the right blend of sarcasm and warmth to make us see her as Tevye’s equal—and his ideal life partner, and her duet with Topol, “Do You Love Me?” is every bit as funny as it is touching.


Rena Strober, Jamie Davis, and Deborah Grausman shine as Tevye’s three oldest daughters, Tzeitel, Hodel, and Chava. Their “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” is a total delight, and Davis displays a lovely soprano in the deeply moving “Far From The Home I Love.”  The daughters’ beaus are equally well cast—Erik Liberman as Tzeitel’s Motel the Tailor, Colby Foytik as Hodel’s Perchik the Student, and Erik Van Tielen as Chava’s Fyedka, the Russian she falls in love with outside her faith.  Liberman gets to sing the joyous “Miracle Of Miracles” and Foytik to duet with Davis “Now I Have Everything”, bright, bouncy numbers that are the perfect counterpoint to the minor-keyed “Sunrise, Sunset” and “Anatevka.”

The marvelous Mary Stout milks every laugh imaginable from the role of Yente, the Matchmaker, and David Brummel is excellent as Lazar Wolf, the (brideless) Butcher.

This Fiddler benefits from one of the largest and most talented ensembles you’re likely to see this year.  Playing featured roles are Kerry Alexander (Shprintze), Stephen Lee Anderson (Constable), Arthur A. Atkinson (The Fiddler), Joel Bernstein (Rabbi), Larry Block (Mordcha, the Innkeeper), Gary Brintz (Mendel), Michael J. Farina (Avram), and Rick Pessagno (Nachum). The ensemble is completed by Leslie Alexander, Katie Babb, Joanne Borts, dance captain David Enriquez, Rebecca Hoodwin, Trevor Illingworth (Misha), Matthew J. Kilgore, T. Doyle Leverett, Matthew Marks (Sasha, Clarinet Player), Robbie Roby (Vladimir), Matthew Rossoff (Cymbal Player), Jessica Scholl, Juliana Stefanov, and Kaitlin Stilwell.  Kilgore, Pessagno, Roby, and Rossoff double as the spectacular bottle dancers.  John Preece is the Tevye standby. 

Music director David Andrews Rogers conducts the production’s 11-piece orchestra, a half-dozen members smaller than customary L.A. area CLO orchestras, but great-sounding nonetheless as orchestrated by Larry Blank and amplified by sound designer Duncan Robert Edwards.

Steve Gilliam’s beautiful set design recreates Anatevka against a pastel sky, taking as its inspiration the works of Marc Chagall and Boris Aaronson’s 1964 Broadway original, and is gorgeously lit by Ken Billington and Jason Kantrowitz. Tony Ray Hicks’ costumes make this a more colorful Fiddler than is sometimes the case.

Fiddler On The Roof is one of those shows that most theatergoers have seen at least once.  It’s also one that stands up to multiple viewings, as real classics ought to.  Though this National Tour was my third Fiddler in less than eight months, I loved every second of it.  With the amazing Topol as Tevye in a production that is every bit at the level of its stellar leading man, this is a Fiddler On The Roof that musical theater lovers will not want to miss.

Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd, Hollywood.

–Steven Stanley
July 23, 2009
                                                                         Photos: Joan Marcus

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