“Fiddler on the Roof” still plays very, very well in the 21st century.
Onstage for just a week at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Theatre, the touring production of the acclaimed musical about how a poor turn-of-the 20th century Jewish milkman and his family survive amid changing times and impending Russian revolution remains thrilling, bittersweet, touching and relevant.
Notably, at the curtain call on Wednesday’s opening night, Jonathan Hashmonay, who terrifically portrayed Tevye the dairyman, dedicated the performance to the people of Ukraine.
Based on the Bartlett Sher-directed version of the powerful multi-Tony Award-winning 1964 show by Joseph Stein (book), Jerry Bock (music) and Sheldon Harnick (lyrics), this show smartly and gratifyingly hews to director-choreographer Jerome Robbins’ Broadway original.
It doesn’t matter that the titular fiddler never actually perches on a roof, or that the device in which Tevye takes off an anachronistic bright red jacket at the start and puts it back on at the end briefly raises a question mark rather than adds to the proceedings.
Everything else is there. The full cast, with a wonderfully large, excellent ensemble filling the stage, bursts on the scene in “Tradition,” the compelling opening number—one of the best beginnings in all of musical theater—setting the tone for the rest of the show.
It’s not long before Tevye’s oldest daughters Tzeitel (Leah Platt), Hodel (GraceAnn Kontak) and Chava (Yardén Barr), who fantasize about their future in the appealingly melancholy-turning-upbeat “Matchmaker, Matchmaker,” begin to challenge that tradition by having a say in selecting their mates.
Against their dad’s wishes, Tzeitel chooses poor tailor Motel (Elliot Lazar) over rich, old butcher Lazar Wolf (Andrew Hendrick); Hodel goes for revolutionary teacher Perchik (Austin J. Gresham) and Chava picks Fyedka (Carson Robinette), a Russian.
Hashmonay is charming as Tevye works out what to do in funny talks with God; cleverly dreams up a solution to undo a deal with the butcher over Tzeitel’s hand in marriage; and checks in about the status of his own marriage with Golde (a strong Maite Uzal) in the lump-in-throat producing “Do You Love Me?” Another guaranteed tear-jerking tune is “Far From the Home I Love,” Hodel’s goodbye as the Russian political situation heats up and the villagers of Anatevka learn that they must leave their home.
Despite its specific Jewish theme and setting, “Fiddler” has enthralled international audiences for decades due to its ultimately universal, timeless messages. With a popularity and indelible reach (one patron in the fourth row at opening night’s intermission said to her companions, “Why do I know every song when I haven’t seen this show before?”), it remains a classic.
A welcome entry in Broadway SF’s current ho-hum show lineup, “Fiddler” is truly a winner that theater lovers can enjoy again and again, and a must-see for newcomers who’ve been fed the contemporary crop of uninspired movie-to-musical adaptations.
“Fiddler on the Roof” runs at 7:30 p.m. March 23-24, 1 and 7:30 p.m. March 25, and 1 and 6:30 p.m. March 26 at the Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor St., San Francisco. Tickets are $55-$141 at broadwaysf.com/.