BROADWAY’S LATEST FIDDLER ON THE ROOF OPENS
During previews, the revival of Fiddler on the Roof has ignited some controversy for its new framing device that director Barlett Sher introduced, featuring a bareheaded Tevye (played by Danny Burstein, pictured above) in modern clothing at the show’s opening, and at the end, “an inescapable visual nod to the current global refugee crisis”, as the New York Times put it in a preview feature.
Lyricist Sheldon Harnick, the last surviving member of the original creative team, had a right of veto. He was, he told the New York Times, ultimately persuaded to allow it, saying: “To my surprise, it had an extraordinary reaction from a significant part of the audience that finds it very moving,” he said in an interview. “They’ve written letters to the producer, they’ve told the cast, they express great emotion.”
The controversy, suggests Alisa Solomon, who has written a cultural history of the show, is quoted saying, “People generally have deep attachments to musicals, and to how they remember them, but Fiddler has that quality more than any musical that’s ever existed, because of the force it had, particularly for Jewish Americans, in the middle of the 20th century. In some ways, there is more flexibility for Jews regarding Jewish ritual itself than there is with Fiddler on the Roof.”
Reviewing its December 20 opening, Charles Isherwood draws out this production’s contemporary relevance and resonances in the New York Times:
The sorry state of the world gives us new reason to appreciate the depth of feeling so powerfully, so ingeniously embedded in Fiddler on the Roof… that has returned to Broadway at a time when its story of the gradual disintegration of a family, and a community, strikes home with unusual force…. This multihued staging moves to a heart-stopping conclusion. It’s impossible to watch the people of Tevye’s town, Anatevka, marching toward their unknown destinies in the shadow of a threatened pogrom without thinking of the thousands of families fleeing violence in the Middle East and elsewhere today….
The buildings of Anatevka sometimes hover above the stage, and as the production progresses they grow smaller; we seem to see them from a greater distance. By the climactic tableau they have disappeared entirely. All we see are people in transit, carrying the few possessions they can bring with them, moving with a weary but steady gait into an unknown future, an image that might have been taken from the front page of a newspaper on almost any day this year.
In Time Out New York, David Cote also draws eloquent modern parallels: “Modern love struggles with ancient custom, as disaster looms in the wings. In the end, as Anatevka’s denizens are seen leaving in silhouette—and Burstein’s man in a red coat returns to take his place with them—you may glimpse a darker angle on tradition. It’s not just the sacred rituals that hold families and villages together: The global, human tradition is this: Exile, displacement, homelessness.”
CHRISTMAS (THEMED) MUSICALS RETURN (BRIEFLY)
A pair of Christmas musicals have returned to New York for short Christmas seasons — Annie and Elf. And reviewed side-by-side, their current NY homes are part of the charm (or lack thereof) of each. In the New York Times, Alexis Soloski writes:
“I think I’m gonna like it here.”
You could hardly blame that little scamp Annie for gushing. The refurbished Kings Theater in Brooklyn is a very nice place for a touring company of Annie to park itself for the holidays. An evening spent in these lavish Art Deco environs, where hardly a surface goes uncarved or ungilded, might make you sympathize with the tour of Elf: The Musical, now braving a winter engagement in the sterile confines of the Theater at Madison Square Garden.
Most of us, of course, don’t choose a holiday entertainment based on architecture.
But then she goes on to say of Annie,
The production gets a boost from its surroundings. Kings Theater is, depending on your architectural preferences, a triumph or a disaster of neo-Baroque style. But it boasts terrific sightlines and decent acoustics. It contrasts meaningfully with the scenes set amid tenements and hobo encampments, and is perhaps the only setting that could make Warbucks’s Fifth Avenue palace appear understated.
The environs of Madison Square Garden lend less to Elf, which seemed a little lost onstage, its sets flimsy, its good cheer not quite infectious.
She lets two “pretween” girls in the audience have the last word in her section on Elf, whom she overhears in the interval.
“Well, no one goes upside-down like in Mary Poppins,” one complained.
“Or in ‘Spider-Man,’” sighed the other. “That was a great show.”
NEWS & VIDEO OF THE WEEK: SPRING AWAKENING, FINDING NEVERLAND, AND FAREWELLS
- The cast of the current Broadway revival of Spring Awakening, being presented by a mixture of hearing and deaf actors in Deaf West Theatre’s production, have released a hilarious video: https://youtu.be/dAGSCi9JMHI
- Finding Neverland will soon have its original principals back in place — but not for long: Playbill reports that Kelsey Grammar, who originated the role of Captain Hook, returns to the company Jan. 15 — before Matthew Morrison departs Jan. 24. I will happen to be in NYC from January 16 for a week —- maybe I’ll put it on my list for a return visit.
- Paying tribute to those who died in 2015: Playbill have done a round-up of some of those we’ve lost in the last 12 months. They include playwrights Brian Friel and Frank D Gilroy (a Pulitzer winner for The Subject was Roses), actors like our own Roger Rees (the original Nicholas Nickleby for the RSC, who appeared in his final Broadway role this year in The Visit, pictured left, but which he left early when he fell ill), Ron Moody (the original Fagin on stage and film in Oliver!), Geraldine McEwan and Keith Michell, as well as Theodore Bikel (the original Captain von Trapp in the Broadway premiere of The Sound of Music), Dean Jones (the original Broadway Bobby from Sondheim’s Company), 21-year-old Kyle Jean-Baptiste (who died after falling from a fire escape soon after he’d become the youngest actor to play Jean Valjean in the current Broadway Les Miserables), directors Robin Phillips and Gene Saks (a regular collaborator of Neil Simon’s) and stage and cabaret veteran Julie Wilson.