On September 17th I had the privilege of being an audience member at the North American premiere of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Fiddler on the Roof . With Book by Joseph Stein, Music by Jerry Bock and Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, the original New York Stage Production was directed and Choreographed by Jerome Robbins. See this memorable production while you have the opportunity. It will only be playing until October 7, 2022.
Having seen this play countless times, I was curious about how Director Barrie Kosky’s version of Fiddler on the Roof, which he ties to his Jewish ancestry and heritage, would tell the story of Anatevka and its Fiddler. Kosky’s depiction seems closer to the reality his ancestors faced as they left the Ukraine, not unlike Tevye and his family and friends. This show was critically acclaimed at the 2017 premiere at the Komische Oper Berlin where Kosky is in residence. Of course, this was before the pandemic and well before Ukraine found itself at war. Here and now, at this time in history, this production is very significant.
On Chicago’s biggest stage the cast of 100 was powerful and energetic and almost overwhelming when all are on stage. This interpretation of the Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick’s Broadway classic is bold and grand, but a deeper, darker, more insightful production than other versions I have seen.
The musical, based on “Tevye and his Daughters” by Solomon Naumovich Rabinovich or as he is better known by his pen name, Sholom Aleichem — takes place in the fictional town of Anatevka, a more singable name for a town Aleichem modeled on the town of Boyarka near his birthplace in central Ukraine.
In the more than 50 years since its premiere, Fiddler on the Roof remains a story that still resonates with audiences of all ages. In those many years it has mesmerized audiences around the world and has been the basis for university courses and amateur productions. I know several people who performed in this play in their high schools and were changed by their experience.
Enjoy Broadway performers Steven Skybelland Debbie Gravitte make their Lyric debuts as Tevye and Golde. Skybell, who won the Lucille Lortel Award for outstanding performance by a lead actor as Tevye in the 2018 Yiddish production in New York, brings his exceptional capacity for this role to Lyric. The cast also includes Glencoe native Lauren Marcus in the role of Tzeitel in her Lyric debut along with Broadway veteran—and Lyric newcomer—David Benoit in the role of Lazar Wolf. Joy Hermalyn rounds out this stellar lineup of Lyric debuts as Yente.
Further enhancing the cast are talented singing actors in the cast including Austen Bohmer as Hodel, Maya Jacobson as Chava, Drew Redington as Motel, Adam Kaplan as Perchik, Michael Nigro as Fyedka, Liliana Renteria as Shprintze, Omi Lichtenstein as Bielke, Jackson Evans as Mendel, Tommy Novak as Avram, Steven Strafford as Mordcha, Bill McGough as the Rabbi, Michael Kingston as the Constable, and Melody Betts as Grandma and Fruma Sarah.
Lyric’s Fiddler on the Roof creative team features Rufus Didwiszus as set designer and Klaus Bruns as costume designer, both in their Lyric debuts, along with the lighting design of Diego Leetz skillfully recreated by Marco Philipp in a Lyric debut for both designers. Otto Pichler’s original choreography is masterfully recreated for Lyric by Silvano Marraffa. The robust forces of the Lyric Opera Chorus bring the village of Anatevka to life under the steady leadership of Lyric’s chorus master Michael Black—culminating in a musical production that is as wholly re-imagined as it is filled with endless talent.
All of this adds up to an experience that is compelling and powerful. As the young and talented fiddler leads the audience to and through Anatevka we meet the characters we know so well, hear songs we know just a little differently. The staging keeps us moving through many doors as characters emerge and disappear. The athleticism of cast members is noteworthy. The second act snow scene was magical. Costumes were perfect, voices were beautiful, the orchestra under the masterful direction of conductor Kimberly Grigsby making her Lyric debut revitalized the celebrated music of Fiddler as she leads the incomparable Lyric Opera Orchestra. And did I mention the dancing?
In the elevator on the way to picking up my car I chatted with one of the understudies for the show and I loved his quick synopsis- He has seen this show countless times and loves it each time. The fiddler, Drake Wunderlich, is a remarkably talented violinist. The dancers stole the show. Director Barrie Kosky pays attention to the tiniest detail.
I have good friends from Australia, from Barrie Kosky’s city, and I have heard about his work for years. What a treat to have him in Chicago, to see his version of Fiddler.
- There are 9 remaining performances of Fiddler on the Roof: September 22, 23, 24, 28 matinee, 29 matinee, 30, and October 2 matinee, 6, and 7, 2022.
- Sung in English.
- A total running time of 3 hours and 15 minutes, including one intermission.
- For updated information about Lyric’s ongoing health and safety protocols, visit lyricopera.org/safety.