A Slimmed-Down ‘Fiddler’


True to its vertiginous title, “Fiddler on the Roof” has become the most elevated and exalted of all Jewish musicals. Now comes a touring production of “Fiddler” that seeks to bring the musical down to earth with a focus on the show’s simpler, purer aspects rather than its larger-than-life qualities.

After four shows in Rockville Centre, on Long Island, this week, “Fiddler” plays this weekend at Lehman and Brooklyn Colleges with Robert L. Summers II as Tevye and Jennie Hollander as Golde.

Directed by Dean Sobon, “Fiddler” began its life at the Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre in Lancaster, Pa. Last October, it embarked on a 70-city tour, and has won plaudits from critic nationwide for its evocative recreation of the life of the shtetl.

Sobon told The Jewish Week that he decided to treat the show more like a straight play than a musical, and to focus on getting even the smallest details right, like the placement of the mezuzahs on the doorposts. He also made the fiddler into Tevye’s alter ego — a character to “give sanity to someone who doesn’t own his own property and who needs to feel good.”

Like Alfred Molina, who stirred up controversy in 2004 by being the first non-Jewish actor to play Tevye on Broadway, Summers is also not a member of the tribe. But this should be irrelevant, according to Alisa Solomon, a professor of journalism at Columbia and the author of “Wonder of Wonders: A Cultural History of Fiddler on the Roof,” to be published by Metropolitan Books in October. She told The Jewish Week that many of the members of the original cast were not Jewish; nor was Norman Jewison, who made the 1971 film, starring Topol.

For many Jews, Solomon noted, “Fiddler” has taken on a kind of sacred status, becoming a “touchstone for Judaism itself.” This gives many Jewish theatergoers “an investment in what the show has to look and sound like.”

Thus, while “Fiddler” deals with universal themes of change and anxiety about the future, Solomon noted that it is also significant in that it was the first of many musicals created by Jews that took a deep look at Jewish heritage. “The Jewishness of Broadway comes to the surface in it,” Solomon said. “Whenever it’s played in New York, that spirit and legacy comes with it.”

“Fiddler on the Roof” runs at the Madison Theatre in Rockville Center through Friday, April 12, then at Lehman College on Saturday, April 13 and a matinee at Brooklyn College on Sunday, April 14. Ticket prices vary. For ticket information, visit www.fiddlerontour.com.