REVIEW: Fiddler on the Roof - 2016 Broadway Cast

Recording CoverThe classic Broadway musical Fiddler on the Roof is all about the role of tradition in a changing world. Should traditions be changed to accommodate a new generation or are there limits as to how far traditions can be altered? One might ask these same questions of the new production of Fiddler on the Roof and its accompanying cast recording. Fiddler is a show that has had its fair share of recordings: an iconic original Broadway cast album featuring Zero Mostel, the movie soundtrack with Topol, various London recordings, and an album of the last Broadway revival with Alfred Molina. Is this new recording with Broadway vet Danny Burstein a necessity in your collection? It depends perhaps on your feelings about tradition.

This new revival as directed by Bartlett Sher aims for a more realistic, even at times harsh take on the Fiddler material. It was a production that for some felt rather joyless and humorless on stage, a "no-nonsense" sort of Fiddler. What this translates to in terms of a cast album is a pleasant enough recording that is, for the most part, absent of all the shouting of dialogue that marked Sher's direction. But some significant changes have been made musically to the score that will both intrigue and perhaps frustrate listeners. In line with Sher's aseptic staging, Ted Sperling has provided brand-new orchestrations that bring out the score's lyrical tenderness, often at the expense of the show's Broadway brassiness. Just listen, most noticeably, to "Matchmaker." Instead of the boisterous number audiences are familiar with, the song is now performed as if a slow ballad, its pace halting at times to a drag. In a show in which the second act already turns slow and quiet, these now understated musical moments at the beginning of the piece give this Fiddler a rather soporific feel.

That's not to say that there aren't some nice new touches musically. The opening number features the vigorous stamps and claps of the chorus working through Israeli choreographer Hofesh Shechter's new Tony-nominated moves. Sperling also provides some new dance arrangements that are quite engaging and enjoyable.

Of course, Fiddler is notable for its rich cast of characters, ripe for talented actors to dig into. Inhabiting the central role of Tevye, Danny Burstein offers a hard-working, earnest, and tender take on the part. While not as funny as Zero Mostel or a revelation in the role, Burstein's performance is solid and amiable. As Golde, Tevye's wife, Jessica Hecht, barks and shouts her way through the show, exhibiting such anger that one wonders why Tevye would stay with her. The rest of the cast is simply "fine," neither good nor bad, with one notable positive standout in Adam Kantor who as Motel provides an exceptionally winning performance of "Miracle of Miracles."

The new cast album is handsomely produced with photos from the show and essays from the creators. There are also two bonus tracks: "Excerpts from Fiddler on the Roof Variations and Cadenza" by John Williams and featuring Itzhak Perlman, and "Dear Sweet Sewing Machine," a tender duet for Tzeitel and Motel that was cut in the show's original out-of-town tryout in Detroit.

For completists or for individuals who are enamored by the current production, this cast recording sounds terrific—great balance between the singers and orchestra—but in the long catalog of Fiddler recordings, I'll stick with "tradition" and my original 1964 Broadway cast album.


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