Broadway in Chicago
Book by Joseph Stein
Music by Jerry Block
Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick
Topol raises the roof on farewell tour
People may boast about having seen John Barrymore, John Guilgud, or Lawrence Olivier on stage in their greatest roles, but now a select group of Chicagoans attending the Ford/Oriental Theater in the brief time span between June 10 and 28 will be equally able to brag about having witnessed an extraordinary performance. Topol is memorable as Tevye in this, his farewell tour in the starring role of “Fiddler on the Roof.”
The play has achieved the status of a classic, and Topol has become solidly identified with the role of the humble milkman – having played it for more than an amazing 2,500 times, appearing worldwide, on stages from London to Israel, and Japan to Australia in addition to starring in the celebrated 1971 Film. The play garnered Tony Awards on Broadway, and the film received Academy Award nominations in Hollywood.
Topol’s Chicago opening resulted in a resounding standing ovation from the packed house. It isn’t only Topol’s voice – which is as strong and mesmerizing as ever — or his acting ability — which is finely honed – it is all the little touches that make up a great role – the innuendos inherent in a raised eyebrow, a shrugged shoulder, a sly grin.
It is in the way he holds out his hands, palms out and vertical, as he pushes away daughters who break with tradition, and the way he shifts them, palms up and horizontal as he bends his fingers, beckoning his children towards him when he ever so reluctantly comes to accept their decisions.
What is the most wonderful is that the songs and story – familiar to most theatergoers via earlier exposure – are suddenly new and meaningful. A live performance – ephemeral by its very nature – can never be repeated – is forever new!
The plot, for those unfamiliar with the story, is based on tales by Sholom Aleichem (considered the Yiddish Mark Twain). Set in 1905 in the little village of Anatevka, it tells of a patriarch trying to maintain family and religious traditions as he and his five daughters move into the modern world. In spite of a mutual desire for peace, hostilities occur between the poor Jews and their Russian neighbors, spurred by anti-Semitic edicts from the Tsar. Laced with warmth, and humor, Fiddler is a poignant tale of family struggling in a chaotic world. Their lives – and their relationships — are as precarious as a fiddler perched upon a roof.
The most memorable songs, with music by Jerry Bock and Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, include ” Tradition”, “If I were a Rich Man,” “To Life, To Life, L’chaim,” and “Sunrise, Sunset,” and the choreography, originally directed and created for the New York Stage Production by Jerome Robbins, is superb. Even those who have formerly seen the number featuring agile dancers with bottles perched on their heads cannot help but hold their breaths once more.
Kudos to a fine supporting cast which includes Susan Cella as Tevye’s long suffering wife Golde, Rena Strober, Jamie Davis and Alison Walla as the three oldest daughters; Erik Liberman, Colby Foytik and Eric Van Tielen as their suitors, and Mary Short as the strident matchmaker Yente.
Whether or not you have ever seen a performance of Fiddler on the Roof, don’t miss this one!
Ford Center for the Performing Arts, Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St., (312) 902-1400. . Tickets are $25-80. Running time 3 hours including intermission. Wednesdays and Sundays, 2 and 7:30 p.m., Saturdays, 2 and 8 p.m., Tuesdays 7:30 p.m. Fridays 8 p.m. until Jun 28.
Tradition, tradition, tradition, without Topol as Tevye there would be no Fiddler On the Roof on such a superb level. I have seen many productions of Fiddler over the years including Zero Mostel but none had the expert combination of vocal acumen and acting ability like Chaim Topol. After more than 2,500 performances as the milkman struggling with his fading life style, Topol is so honest, so funny and so vulnerable that he makes Tevye as most empathetic character. We understand and sympathize with Topol’s polished performance. He makes this touring production a master work and a ‘must see show.’ Topol gave a most energetic performance. This national tour is a spirited affair.