Reviewer: Mark Clegg
According to the song in Spamalot, “you won’t succeed on Broadway if you don’t have any Jews”. If this is indeed the case then there is no surprise that Fiddler on the Roof has achieved such massive success since its premiere in 1964. Winner of nine Tony Awards, Broadway’s longest running show (until Grease beat it), revived numerous times and constantly performed by community theatre groups, Fiddler remains a true treasure of musical theatre.
Set in the small Russian settlement of Anatevka in 1905, the story follows poor milkman Teyve and his struggle to balance his Jewish faith and traditions with being the father of five head-strong daughters against a background of political unrest and religious tensions. The plot synopsis suggests a depressing tale and although the plot certainly does visit some dark places, Fiddler is a warm and witty musical comedy with a joyously catchy score and believable, well rounded characters. This CD of the latest Broadway revival goes back to basics and offers a relatively intimate cast recording with new but simple and unobtrusive orchestrations and a small (for a cast recording) selection of musicians.
Every production of Fiddler rests firmly on the shoulders of whoever is cast as Tevye. Here Danny Burstein proves to be more than able of carrying such a weight and provides a nuanced performance that balances the required comic timing with sincerity and dramatic heft. His vocals are closer to Zero Mostel’s sprightly baritone than Topol’s rumbling bass but he still manages to give punch to the likes of Tevye’s Monologue and Tevye’s Denial, while obviously having great fun with If I Were a Rich Man and Tevye’s Dream.
In a show that has such a massive central role, the rest of the cast are not given much of an opportunity to shine. However Jessica Hecht offers a sincere Golde and Adam Kantor gives a little more zest than is usual in the role of Motel the tailor. The three main daughters Tzeitel (Alexandra Silber), Hodel (Samantha Massell) and Chava (Meanie Moore) have the show-stopping Matchmaker but rather disappointingly here it is performed a little too straight and sung a little too well, dispelling much of the fun of the song.
This avoidance of over-the-top characterisations stretches across the entire cast so that the likes of Alix Korey’s matchmaker Yente and Jessica Vosk’s ghostly Fruma-Sarah seem rather staid against what we have come to expect from previous incarnations. No doubt aiming for realism, this move does somewhat dampen some of the comedy of the songs. However, overall the score is well represented with standouts being the lively To Life, the melancholy Anatevka, and the beautiful Sabbath Prayer and Sunrise, Sunset.
On the whole this is a very good representation of one of Broadway’s true masterpieces and although one could argue that this recording offers very little that is new or different from previous ones, why try and change something that is perfect already?