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.