The spirits of displacement and change hang heavily over Fiddler on the Roof these days. What keeps it all from becoming, well, dispiriting is the heartfelt humanity evident in every timeless bar of its classic Jerry Bock-Sheldon Harnick score.
Like the fiddler in the title, the new national tour makes an early stop in Baltimore and manages to strike the perfect balance between lofty traditions and the gravitational cataclysm of progress.
This is the road version of the critically hailed 2015 Broadway revival, with a new cast and some set modifications. Director Bartlett Sher carries over his own effective framing device, suggesting a pair of modern eyes searching for ancestral roots in the rubble of a shtetl once known as Anatevka.
At curtain, Israeli actor Yehezkel Lazarov stands on a desolate train platform in the exact middle of nowhere. But once he discards his red parka and reveals a prayer shawl and peasant’s vest, he becomes Tevye, standing again in the exact middle of everywhere — a Russian village circa 1910, with all its culture, laughter, faith, family squabbles, political threats and, above all else, its traditions intact.
Yehezkel Lazarov proves to be a fit Tevye indeed, with his nonstop dispensing of folksy wisdom and his comical bantering with an omnipresent God. He gets all the bombast right, too, in “If I Were a Rich Man,” though his handling of some of the gentler refrains of “Sunrise, Sunset” and “Do You Love Me?” can seem as dusty and worn as his milkman’s trousers.
Tevye must face his own bouts with the 20th century as three of his grown daughters decide not to wait for the village matchmaker to choose their husbands. In “Matchmaker, Matchmaker,” the talented trio of Mel Weyn (Tseitel), Ruthy Froch (Hodel), and Natalie Powers (Chava) are always right on key as the feisty, non-compliant daughters.
Playing Tevye’s wife, Maite Uzal gives Golde a warmth and familiarity far beyond the rigidity of her ideas of motherhood.
The males in the cast who make an outstanding contribution to the story are Jesse Weil as the meek tailor Motel, Jonathan Von Mering as the hulking butcher Lazar Wolf, and Ryne Nardecchia as Perchik, the outspoken student whose radical idealism shakes up the entire village.
Some of the acting sounds too “musical theaterish” at times, and there is an imprecision to the ensemble movements in “To Life” that would have dismayed the late original director Jerome Robbins. But again and again, the production redeems itself, such as in the heart-stopping “Bottle Dance” recreated here by Choreographer Christopher Evans.
The stripped-down backdrops and set pieces designed by Michael Yeargan and adapted for the road by Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams manage to evoke the rough-hewn presence of a rural village. The waits between scene changes, though, seem excessive for what we get.
Anyone needing an introduction to a masterpiece of the 20th-century book musical should welcome this production with open arms and a grateful heart. It may not rank as the all-time reference staging of Fiddler on the Roof, but it certainly delivers the beauty and the power of a classic achievement in storytelling.
Running Time: Two hours and 51 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.
Fiddler on the Roof plays through November 18, 2018, at The Hippodrome Theatre at The France-Merrick Performing Arts Center — 12 North Eutaw Street, in Baltimore, MD 21201. For tickets, call (800) 982-ARTS or purchase them online.