What will the Russian-Jewish characters of 1900 — to say nothing of the theatregoers of 2004 — find in this fourth Broadway revival of the durable 1964 smash?
In previews, the world wrought by Leveaux and his creative team, including scenic designer Tom Pye, was revealed as sensual, sumptuous and very Russian, complete with a collection of flickering 19th-century oil lamps descending from the ceiling whenever Tevye (played by Alfred Molina) spoke to God or expressed his inner thoughts.
Panels move, the moon rises, stars appear, the orchestra — also lit by lamps — is nestled onto the stage and the plankboard stage floor shifts like in no other production in the show's history.
Did we mention the forest of birch trees and the autumnal fallen leaves? Visually, everything says something is coming to an end — which will lead, of course, to a new beginning for all.
Previews began at the large Minskoff Theatre Jan. 23, and for those who may grumble about the orchestra being on stage, the reason for it benefits the viewer, Leveaux has said: The stage now comes out over what was the orchestra pit, putting the action almost "into the lap" of the audience. Fiddler on the Roof's titular musician doesn't have a speaking part, but does have a larger presence in this revival (played by musician Nick Danielson), and the visual influence of artist Marc Chagall has been heightened (note, especially, Tevye's nightmare in Act One). When choosing the title for the show 40 years ago, the production team looked to Chagall's canvases for inspiration (a precarious fiddler is one of his famous images). Conveniently, a fiddler was already part of the story.
Before they settled on Fiddler on the Roof as a title, the creators of the show kicked around The Old Country, Tevye and Where Papa Came From as possibilities for their unlikely hit about life in the Russian-Jewish shtetl.
Few marketing executives today would choose the name Fiddler on the Roof for the marquee, but, then, back in 1964 few would have guessed that a musical that features a pogrom at the end of Act One would be a hit with audiences around the world. The original Broadway run played more the 3,200 performances.
During the fine-tuning process of the previews, actress Barbara Barrie (who is Harnick's sister-in-law) was dismissed as Yente the Matchmaker (who sings a new Bock and Harnick song in this revival) and replaced by Nancy Opel ( Urinetown).
Molina stars opposite Randy Graff ( City of Angels, Les Misérables, A Class Act), who is wife Golde. Tevye and Golde are raising five daughters in the village of Anatevka, on the eve of the Russian revolution in the early 20th-century. Holding fast to their traditions, they find themselves bending as their three older daughters fall on love with, respectively, a tailor, a revolutionary teacher and an outsider.
To tell the story of the tiny and universal world, the show's original choreography by the late Jerome Robbins is being employed (Jonathan Butterell, also of Nine,, is credited with musical staging).
New to this Fiddler is a new song, written recently by Bock and Harnick, called "Topsy-Turvy," written as an animated moment for Yente, the matchmaker, and the village women in Act Two. It takes the place of "The Rumor," which was first employed to cover a scene change in 1964. "Topsy-Turvy" sets up Yente's final moment in the show; with all the budding romance in the world, her work is obsolescent, she finds.
Rehearsals for Fiddler on the Roof began Dec. 1, 2003.
The three daughters who challenge their tradition-bound father, Tevye — to be played by above-the-title Alfred Molina — will be Sally Murphy ( A Man of No Importance) as Tzeitel, Laura Michelle Kelly (a recent Eliza in London's My Fair Lady and Mary Poppins in late 2004 in London as Hodel and Tricia Paoluccio ( Debbie Does Dallas, A View From the Bridge) as Chava. The choice roles of Motel the tailor and Perchik the revolutionary are played by John Cariani (whose quirky turn has stolen scenes in the show) and Robert Petkoff, respectively.
Fiddler on the Roof (from the 1964-65 Broadway season) is considered one of the masterpieces of musical theatre, co-created by director-choreographer Jerome Robbins.
The Fiddler cast includes David Ayers (Fyedka), Stephen Lee Anderson (Constable), David Wohl (Lazar Wolf), Nick Danielson (Fiddler), Lea Michele (Sphritze) and Molly Ephraim (the recent Little Red in Into the Woods, as Bielke), and Yusef Bulos (Rabbi), Chris Ghelfi (Mendel), Philip Hoffman (Mordcha), Mark Lotito (Avram), Stephen Ward Billeisen (Vladek/Russian Dancer), Randy Bobish (Yitzuk/Bottle Dancer), Melissa Bohon (Anya), Enrique Brown (Yussel/Bottle Dancer), Sean Curley, Rita Harvey (Fredel), Joy Hermalyn (Rivka), Keith Kuhl (Vladimir/Russian Dancer), Jeff Lewis (Label/Bottle Dancer), Craig Ramsay (Boris/Russian Dancer), David Rossmer (Man 1), Jonathan Sharp (Sasha), Haviland Stillwell (Surcha), Barbara Tirrell (Shandel), Tom Titone (Nachum), Francis Toumbakaris (Shlome/Bottle Dancer), Michael Tommer (ensemble), Marsha Waterbury (Mirala) and Bruce Winant (Man 2). Swings are Gina Lamparella, Roger Rosen and Gustavo Wons.
The cast totals 40, with an orchestra of 25, musical directed by Kevin Stites ( Nine). The orchestra features Don Walker's original orchestrations, with Larry Hochman orchestrating "Topsy-Turvy."
The design team includes Tom Pye (scenic), Vicki Mortimer (costumes), Tony Award winner Brian MacDevitt (lighting) and Acme Sound Partners (sound). Hair and wig design is by David Brian Brown.
Zero Mostel and Maria Karnilova created the roles of Tevye and Golde in 1964-65. They both won 1965 Tony Awards for their work (in the Best Actor and Best Featured Actress categories).
Producing the 2004 revival are James L. Nederlander, Stewart F. Lane/Bonnie Comley, Harbor Entertainment, Terry Allen Kramer, Bob Boyett/Lawrence Horowitz, Clear Channel Entertainment.
Leveaux directed Nine (for which he was Tony nommed) in the 2002-03 Broadway season. Leveaux had previously staged the Maury Yeston musical in London and Argentina. Leveaux's recent work in New York includes The Real Thing, Betrayal, Electra, A Moon for the Misbegotten and Anna Christie. He recently staged Jumpers for the Royal National Theatre in London; that revival will open on Broadway this spring.
Fiddler spawned such songs as "If I Were a Rich Man," "Matchmaker, Matchmaker," "Sunrise, Sunset" and "To Life."
Molina was nominated for a Tony Award for his work in the three-person Broadway play Art and starred in the TV series "Ladies Man" and "Bram and Alice." On the London stage the actor was seen in Serious Money, Speed-the Plow and Night of the Iguana. This summer he will play the infamous comic-book villain, Dr. Octopus, in the feature film, "Spider-Man 2."
Three revivals of Fiddler have played Broadway — in 1976, 1981 and 1990. The most recent production played the Gershwin Theatre and starred Topol and Marcia Lewis as, respectively, Tevye and his wife Golde. The 1971 film, with direction by Norman Jewison, featured Topol and Norma Crane.
Fiddler opened Sept. 22, 1964 at the Imperial Theatre, won eight 1965 Tony Awards including Best Musical and played 7 previews and 3,242 regular performances.
Tickets for the new Fiddler range $35 to $100. The playing schedule is Tuesday at 7 PM, Wednesday through Saturday at 8 PM, with matinees on Wednesday and Saturday at 2 PM and Sunday at 3 PM.
Tickets range from $35 to $100, and are available through Ticketmaster.com at (212) 307 4100.