New Repertory Theatre’s FIDDLER ON THE ROOF (extended through Jan 11th) is not the same FIDDLER you may remember from years ago. Director Austin Pendleton adds lovely symbolic touches to the “traditional” staging for timely effect. For one, the fiddler isn’t on the actual roof (generally visible at the start and the end of the musical), he’s omnipresent—in Tevye’s imagination, perhaps—or ours. He follows the milkman around and once, even nudges him to look toward the heavens. He constantly reminds us of Tevye’s opening words about the difficulty of keeping one’s balance in changing times—something we’re about to experience politically and very personally in our own country.
Pendleton gets even more resonance from the storyline as we watch a whole community becoming refugees, dispersing in all directions. Tevye’s family stands in for every Jewish family in Anatevka just as the open set (designed by Stephen Dobay) stands in for the whole village. (It’s framed high above by adjoining rooftops out of which grow leafless, wintering trees reminiscent of THE CHERRY ORCHARD.) The musical itself is so beautifully rendered, (book by Joseph Stein; songs by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick) that the residents of Anatevka stand in for any persecuted people and Tevye’s strained relationship with his daughters reflects any child’s struggle to separate from a previous generation.
The New Rep production features Jeremiah Kissel as a longsuffering Tevye, a little more prone to depression than some, with Amelia Broome plenty feisty as his wife, Golde. Bobbie Steinbach, too, makes Yente, the matchmaker pretty cagey. The daughters are all delightful with each completely different from the other. Of the suitors, Patrick Varner as Motel, the tailor stands out for his joyous transformation from mouse to lion. Kelli Edwards’ choreography is effervescent, with the requisite thrill from the bottle dance. Music director Wade Russo gets wonderful singing all around, with an exquisitely moving “Sabbath Prayer” one of the many reasons to see New Rep’s striking, rewarding production.