Muny keeps ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ poignant and fresh

Michael McCormick and Peter Van Wagner in the Muny’s production of “Fiddler on the Roof.”

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

“Fiddler on the Roof,” playing at the Muny through Aug. 5, features a fine cast led by Michael McCormick as Tevye the Dairyman, with strong performances all around in a sweet, poignant and affecting production.

Because “Fiddler” often has been on American stages since opening on Broadway in 1964 — this is the 10th time the Muny has staged it — the challenge for producers, directors, choreographers and the orchestra is to remain true to the iconic story while giving it a fresh approach. 

This Muny production succeeds admirably in being faithful to the original material while introducing some highly effective touches that enhance the story of the Tevye’s struggles to invoke “tradition!” to stem the unyielding tide of events during the Czarist years in Russia before World War I.

The action takes place in 1905 in the mythical shtetl of Anatevka, one of hundreds of such Jewish hamlets scattered across Russia at the time, filled with colorful and endearing inhabitants. Thanks to scenic designer Robert Mark Morgan,  Anatevka is re-created on stage with only a few Chagall-like wooden structures. 

The minimalist staging underscores the impoverished lives of the town’s inhabitants and allows the focus to be on them. Morgan deserves praise for creating a simple but evocative backdrop in a Muny season that has been marked by supersize and often spectacular sets.  


McCormick credibly portrays one of the most beloved characters of the musical stage with equal parts good humor and seriousness of purpose. Anne L. Nathan as his sardonic but supportive wife, Golde, is also excellent, and the classic “Do You Love Me?” duet is one of the most poignant highlights of the Muny production.

Nancy Opel chews up the scenery in her spot-on portrayal of Yente the Matchmaker and as the ghost of Fruma-Sarah, the first wife of wealthy town butcher Lazar Wolf (Peter Van Wagner in an empathetic portrayal).

Alan Schmuckler as the shy Motel the Tailor captures the reticence that he feels in the overpowering presence of Tevye as he stammers to ask permission to marry Tevye’s eldest daughter Tzeitel (Haley Bond).

Tevye is a symbol of the inexorable change that is sweeping across Europe and the rest of the world. The fragile peace that has prevailed for the most part in Anatevka is beginning to give way to rising threats of pogroms and eviction. Michael James Reed, in the challenging role of the Constable who admires Tevye but must follow orders, also delivers a fine performance.

As each of Tevye’s three marriageable daughters selects her life partner, Tevye is challenged to bend his devotion to tradition to the breaking point, and McCormick flawlessly evokes his growing torment.

Director Gary Griffin nimbly helms the highly skilled cast and is responsible for the addition of a song, “Any Day Now,” which he discovered while working with “Fiddler’s” lyricist, Sheldon Harnick. The song was originally written for the 1971 film version of “Fiddler.”

Music director Brad Haak and the superb Muny orchestra greatly enhance the show. In a stroke of genius, the orchestra is placed at the back of the stage, which infuses the familiar music with a new immediacy and greatly complements the soaring strings of the Fiddler, the title character of the show played wonderfully by Andrew Crowe.

Choreographer Alex Sanchez continues the Muny tradition of taking full advantage of its huge stage, and Amy Clark’s costume design, along with the entire creative team, deserve shout-outs.

By now, the story of “Fiddler on the Roof” is as familiar to Jewish audiences as the story of Moses and the Exodus or Queen Esther and Purim. Just as those events take on new and enhanced meaning with each Passover and Purim, so does “Fiddler” provide a deep reservoir of history, feeling and most of all, tradition!