Watching so many film adaptations of plays and musicals, everything from Carousel and Oklahoma! to My Fair Lady, The King and I and West Side Story, when I was growing up, I jumped at the chance to see one performed live — Fiddler on the Roof.
Playing at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia, Oct. 23–28, the limited engagement was an exciting opportunity to see one of my childhood favorites again, but for the first time on stage. It had been a while since I saw the film, my only reference to the show, so the live performance held a few surprises for me.
The strong themes of family, faith and tradition play out through father-daughter relationships, husband-wife relationships and complicated layers of conflicting new and old values at the core of the story. It’s easy to see why this performance is so ingrained in my memory as a family favorite. There’s a mix of light-hearted fun and real heart-warming, emotional moments.
Your family may already know the songs like “Tradition,” “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” and “Sunrise Sunset,” but to see them performed live is another story. Watching the three lead daughters, Tzietel, Hodel and Chava, dance and sing “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” brought me back to the rendition my sister and I performed to no one on our back porch as kids, or my father jokingly singing “If I were a Rich Man” along with Tevye in the film. Some dance numbers stood out in the live performance that I had completely forgotten about, like an epic dance showdown in the tavern and the darkly funny dream sequence.
The entire show runs just under three hours and the two acts are divided not quite halfway through, but definitely displaying two completely different emotional tones. The first act is funny, heartwarming, light and genuinely sweet, all building to the emotional changes found in the second act.
With the Academy of Music venue seating just less than 2,600 guests, it’s easy to see all the incredible, ornate details of the theater, from the old-fashioned narrow balcony seats to the rich, opulent designs around the stage. Being a Tuesday night showing, the crowd was mixed, but with the funny family moments and somber historical tones, kids, teens and older children would appreciate this performance — it definitely had a lasting impression on me as a kid and now.
Directed by Bartlett Sher, Tony Award winner for South Pacific, 2008; Drama Desk Award for Fiddler on the Roof, 2016 and South Pacific, 2008; and Outer Critics Circle Award for South Pacific, 2008 and My Fair Lady, 2018, this version of Fiddler on the Roof seems to be in good company.
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