The classic musical Fiddler on the Roof has moved audiences to “happiness and tears” for almost a half-century. The current touring production onstage at the Aronoff Center has the capacity to do that, even though it’s a bare-bones rendition with an uneven cast.
The fact is that Jerry Bock’s music and Sheldon Harnick’s lyrics, not to mention Joseph Stein’s book (based on stories by the Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem), constitute such wonderful material that theatergoers tend to be pleased regardless of the quality of a production.
The key to success with any version of Fiddler is having the right actor as Tevye.
This tour features veteran John Preece, who’s played the philosophical Jewish dairyman in 1905 Tsarist Russia more than 1,500 times. Zero Mostel originated the role in 1964 and his quirky, inimitable stamp will remain on it forever. But Preece does a fine job in a more understated manner. Although he occasionally slips into shtick, Preece makes audiences love this man who talks to God and wrestles with changing social mores, especially his daughters who want to make their own choices about marriage.
Beyond Preece, the ensemble cast is competent if not especially noteworthy. The actresses playing Tevye’s feisty daughters and their suitors are well drawn; the actress playing Golde, his wife, is barely adequate. The ensemble succeeds in big numbers like the nicely choreographed “Tradition,” which opens the show, “To Life,” celebrating a pending wedding, and the hilarious ruse “The Dream.”
Sets are modest but functional. The orchestra uses a lot
of keyboard synthesizer with a few necessary strings and reeds. Despite
the corners cut with this production, it remains an audience pleaser. I
suspect it will sell lots of tickets during its two-week Cincinnati run.
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