Theatre Review: “Fiddler on the Roof” @ Golden Gate Theatre (tour), 01/28/10


Simply said, the touring production of Fiddler on the Roof at Golden Gate Theatre is a total riot. I’ve always thought of Fiddler on the Roof as funny, but never as a true comedy. Harvey Fierstein magically transforms Tevye into a comic genius. His subtle gestures (and sometimes not-so-subtle gestures), wrinkled or lifted eyebrows and highly-recognizable voice lends to a performance that becomes laugh-out-loud funny and the audience unequivocally ate it up.

Fierstein carries the entire 2 hour and 50 minute production all by himself, only sharing that load with his wife, Golde (Susan Cella), at only certain points throughout. While the ensemble and supporting characters are all fantastic, it really becomes the “Harvey Fierstein show”. I have to say though, I was not a fan of Fierstein’s singing voice (if you can call it that) at all. Part of what makes Fiddler on the Roof such a beautiful musical is all of the gorgeous music. When Fierstein sang it, it was definitely not gorgeous, especially the touching ballad, “Do You Love Me?” that he sings to his wife half-way through the second act. Whenever Fierstein sings, I can feel my own voice hurting for his unnaturally low, scratchy voice. He sang everything one octave lower than what was originally written. But, in the end, it didn’t really matter because you still loved Tevye and you believed every emotion that he and his family were going through. (The ending scene was heart-breaking.)

Another notable plus is the quick-paced nature of this production. Usually, when you think of Fiddler on the Roof, you can’t help think about the the 3-hour movie and think, “it’s gonna be a long one!” But, because they have to be out of the theatre before 11pm, every tempo was a little more upbeat and energetic than anything I’ve ever heard. And, I really liked it! The first act was an hour and 45 minutes and it never felt like it dragged. I actually couldn’t believe that it felt that fast. (Usually 90-minute musicals are my kind of shows!) But, you better be in your seat at 8pm, because they will start without you. A slew of people (I’ve actually never seen so many people be seated late before) came through the door after the first rousing opening number, “Tradition”.

While the set seemed a bit too cartoonish for a show based in harsh reality, it moved really well on the stage and kept that general quick pace throughout the production. I especially loved the background trees. The Dream sequence played out to be one of my favorite scenes in the whole show and I loved Sean Patrick Doyle as Fruma Sarah. Overall, everyone gave a great performance; the dancing was super (especially the quintessential “Bottle Dance”) and the orchestra sounded beautiful.

One suggestion: if you are going to have a fake Fiddler in Fiddler on the Roof, then at least give them the basics on how to hold a violin. It drove me crazy to watch him “fake playing” as he held the violin in his armpit. (Come on, I’ve seen high school productions where the Fiddler actually played the violin on stage.)

If you are looking for a slightly different, more comedic, take on Tevye, then head to the Golden Gate Theatre because Fiddler on the Roof will not disappoint.

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9 thoughts on “Theatre Review: “Fiddler on the Roof” @ Golden Gate Theatre (tour), 01/28/10

  1. I am going to have to disagree with you a little bit. I saw this on Broadway with Fierstein, and to me, the fact that his voice was not at all suited for the music mattered a lot. I respect him, but I couldn’t enjoy the show when so much of the beautiful music was unrecognizable.

  2. It’s totally true, his voice isn’t suited for the role at all, but I’ve never laughed so much seeing “Fiddler” before, so I couldn’t discount that fact. If you go in knowing that he can’t sing, it’s a little more forgivable than expecting a great voice on his songs.

  3. This show is embarrassingly amateur. And your review is as amateur as the set-trees you liked so much in your article (the same trees I could see the sloppy paint-job from in my balcony seats).

    I love Fiddler. I think its one of the best musical comedys ever written. I think Topol’s Tevye is genius.

    This schlocky production was full of bad staging, messy cues, jokes that fell, amateur set pieces, missing orchestra pieces and community theatre actors. It was as if the producers spent minimum on the set, the costumes, the lighting and expected their star to shine brighter than anything.

    Fierstein’s ingratiating light and voice could not hold this role, unfortunately. He could not sing it and mugged everything. His anger was whiney, his comedic takes were way too big and Tevye’s emotional depth was compromised. Fierstein also is way too big of a diva. You never fully settle into Tevye because Fierstein never fully allows himself to.

    I’m imagining that because this production was supposed to be starring Topol, that some aspects were compromised in the switch over. BUT – I place most of the blame on the director, Sammy Dallas Bayes. No vision. No heart. And sloppy, sloppy, sloppy.

    BIG DISAPPOINTING EMBARRASSMENT!

    similar review: http://talkinbroadway.com/world/Fiddler2.html

    1. You obviously can’t read, because no where did I say that I loved or even liked the set-trees. If you revisit the article it says, “While the set seemed a bit too cartoonish for a show based in harsh reality, it moved really well on the stage and kept that general quick pace throughout the production.”

      Read slowly next time.

      And regardless if the paint job was crappy, it did move well and kept up with the fast-paced nature of this production.

      I will agree with you on that Fierstein is way too big of a diva hence why I wrote “slightly different, more comedic, take on Tevye, then head to the Golden Gate Theatre…” Did I call it perfect? No.

      You know what you are going to get with Fierstein, so knowing that when I walked into the door – I wasn’t disappointed. And I haven’t seen Topol, so there was no comparison.

      I don’t blame the director for everything… I would place a lot of the blame on the producers. They are the ones that wanted to cut costs. They decided they had to do the show in under 3 hours. They are the ones that gave the budget on the cartoonish set. And ultimately, not getting any other big-name stars in the production was probably, another money concern.

      I think Sammy Dallas Bayes did his best with the monetary restrictions placed on him.

      It wasn’t even near community theatre level… much higher. While, I can see your disappointment, it wasn’t as bad as you attempting to portray. I still left the theatre uplifted, buoyed by the great music and dancing and a classic story that still showed through all of the “sloppy” antics you write about.

      And watch who you are calling amateur… when you throw out threats anonymously, you sound like a big asshole and everything you write after that is less effective. So next time, have some balls and don’t hide in the internet shadows.

      1. Hey if you can’t handle criticism, which is ironic since that’s your job,and you have to defend your original article I would suggest the blogger hit, what I call a nerve. I think you need to toughen up or find a new profession. You may be right, they maybe right, attacking somebody for their take on your opinion is fair. I think you are too thin skinned. If you read your 4th paragraph you say you “I especially loved the background trees”. So you did say it, it’s in your article. Also if you are a so called critic don’t get personal, for me you have no credibility if you call people “assholes”. You obviously are an amateur. BTW nobody ever erected a statue to a critic.

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