Anatevka isn't Shangri-la or even Brigadoon: it's better than both - real people live there. Vanishing into the countryside dust stirred by the gathering storms of early 20th Century Russia, the hamlet lingers in our hearts and minds. When "Fiddler on the Roof," which returned last night at the State Theater (I caught a preview) first opened, never to close - has there ever been a period when these villagers haven't been milling about somewhere - my wife found its story so enthralling that she declared it hardly needed songs to go with it. But in its totality this is a classic musical, and as a summer attraction at Lincoln Center it's utterly captivating.
Herschel Bernardi, who has been playing Tevye off and on since the village milkman didn't have songs (he was here and on the road in the early '50s in "The World of Sholem Aleichem"), is starred in the role he inherited from the late Zero Mostel during the Broadway run and which he held for two years to be succeeded by practically everybody except Barbra Streisand, and he is perhaps the most authentic Tevye of them all.
Without the huge, commanding presence of Mostel in the lead (though it's unlikely that even he could have been so all-encompassing in this vast theater), the excellence of the show as a whole is more evident, particularly the rare value and beauty of Jerome Robbins' choreography and overall direction.
In spite of some easy gags, Joseph Stein's shrewd alteration of the Aleichem stories is a model of musical-book writing, and the songs of Jerry Bock (music) and Sheldon Harnick (lyrics) are enchanting. "Matchmaker, Matchmaker," "If I Were a Rich Man" and "Do You Love Me" remain show-stoppers, but the loveliest of the lot is still "Sunrise, Sunset," which also introduces the wedding scene and subsequent wedding dance that comprise the evening's most stunning sequence.
Robbins' magic is everywhere, making the long and rueful comedy, in which bursts of sorrow and of joy tumble one over the other, dance by like a dream. And in perfect harmony with it are the late Boris Aronson's fanciful set designs and Patricia Zipprodt's imaginative but never overstated costumes, both recreated from the original production. Ken Billington's lighting design is equally complementary.
Maria Karnilova, who created the part of Golde and won a Tony for it, is once more Tevye's efficient, sharp-tongued, understanding wife. Ruth Jaroslow, who has played Yente, the village matchmaker, in practically all the New York productions, is back again and, I would say, indispensable. Though it's unfair to omit any names from the large and able cast, I must say how much I enjoyed the work of Lori Ada Jaroslow (Tzeitel), Donalyn Petrucci (Hodel) and Liz Larsen (Chaza) as the three principal daughters, and of Michelan Sisti (Motel), James Werner (Perchik) and Joel Robertson (Fyedka) as their respective swains. And Paul Lipson (Bernardi's standby) and Alvin Myerovich are back in their original roles of Lazar, the butcher, and the village rabbi. "Fiddler," as you can see, has become almost a lifetime career for many of these people.
With its sense of the changes in the air in 1905 Russian society, at a time when the great Jewish emigration to America was reaching flood tide, "Fiddler" remains an unusually compelling musical play, and for the time being the State Theater has been turned into a heartwarming shtetl.
Fiddler on the Roof is like your grandmother's house - a place to renew old values and get your soul scrubbed out. If you're lucky enough to have it still, be wise enough to visit it often.
We got lucky this summer. A stunning new production of this beloved musical, staged by its original creator Jerome Robbins, will play Lincoln Center's New York State Theater through Aug. 23. With Robbins at the helm, this is the most faithful re-creation of the 1964 musical-theater classic (right to the definitive designs of Boris Aronson and Patricia Zipprodt) that we've ever seen.
Tradition is staunchly upheld by the presence of Herschel Bernardi and Maria Karnilova in the leads.
Wearing his love for humanity right on the sleeve of his well-washed workshirt, Bernardi is surely the most compassionate of Tevyes, as well as one of the musically secure. The commitment to life he represents lacks the robustness and the sharp comic defenses we associate with the late Zero Mostel and remember in To Life and If I Were a Rich Man. But Bernardi's gentleness expressed so warmly in songs like Sunrise/Sunset and Tradition makes Tevye a braver man for daring to accept the dangerous new ideas that threaten his precious traditions.
As his loving scold of a wife Golda, Maria Karnilova, returns to the role she originated as if she's been living it all along since 1964. He biting tongue makes perfect cuts every time like the favorite kitchen knife that women treasure through generations. In Do You Love Me, her well-sheathed love emerges so shyly it could break your heart.
Except for Donalyn Petrucci's spirited Hodel, the younger cast members define Tevye's daughters and their suitors rather sparely. But familiars such as Paul Lipson (nicely marbled as Lazar Wolf the butcher) and Ruth Jaroslow (a truly dauting Yente) are as dependable as old friends.
Speaking of which the genius of Jerome Robbins behind the scenes is a palpable presence onstage. In his hands, no strings unravel, no balloons sail off from the bunch, no stray buttons fall off to roll under the bureau. The production is a marvel of unity from the taut ensemble playing to the perfectly matched design schemes to the beautiful regimentation of the dances.
In the flawless Robbins style, all movement becomes choreography which accelerates into a rush for the magnificent dances. Bottle Dance, Wedding Dance, and the joyous explosion of To Life seem fresh even new, but one thing never changes - they never go on long enough to satisfy starved tastes.
Under Richard Vitznum's musical direction, the Jerry Bock/Sheldon Harnick score has lost none of its articulateness. Joseph Stein's book is an eloquent statement of the wretching changes that all mankind (not just the beleaguered Jews) must make to survive. The musical miracle of Fiddler is that its strong function as a classical chorus to the scene. They both affirm and question it, and in the many brilliant variations of Tradition, they capture all the intellectual and emotional nuances of the conflict itself.
What more can one ask of a perfect musical?
If you were a rich man, you couldn't buy a better show than the joyous re-creation of ''Fiddler on the Roof,'' a musical that seems destined to be a theatrical Phoenix, that opened last night at the New York State Theater. You can't dismiss it as a rerun of the Broadway hit that ran for 3,242 performances from 1964 to 1972. It's more than that. Tradition. That's what it is.
Here is quick tradition, the sort of tradition that can be produced only in a country whose ancient days are but 200 years old. Everyone knows ''Fiddler,'' its tart sentimentality, its blend of Sholom Aleichem affectionate humor concerning the Yiddish-speaking Jews of East Europe and snappy Broadway showmanship. Jerome Robbins, who staged the musical by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick and Joseph Stein on Broadway, is back doing it again here, as director and choreographer. Herschel Bernardi, who was a Broadway Tevye, the weary milkman who talks, with irony, to God about his own poverty, his wife and his five daughters, is back again in the role created by the first of the string of Broadway Tevyes, Zero Mostel. That's tradition.
Even the lovely pastel sets by Boris Aronson, with their simple, yet touching evocations of the shtetl, are with us again, a tradition that reflects a tradition. And Maria Karnilova, who was the first Golde, Tevye's sharp-tongued wife, is back with us again. And so, one suspects, is much of the audience. That's tradition.
What with so many intervening ''Fiddlers'' on television, in the movies, obtruding on memory, it is hard to recall whether this production is exactly the same as the one that scored on Broadway. If it is, it explains why it was a hit then. If it's not, it shows that this is a most appealing musical that can sparkle in almost any circumstances, something we already knew by virtue of its success in 75 countries and on 50 foreign-language record albums. But, really, this incarnation has all of the same touches that one remembers from that first time around.
The house is different, to be sure. The New York State Theater is a luxurious cavern of the arts, and Mr. Robbins's snappy choreography seems to have more room to spread itself handsomely in it, which it does. Turntable and treadmill are harnessed to the same esthetic functions they served on Broadway. The rousing number,''To Life,'' with its fast-moving dances in the Hasidic and Russian traditions (it's a hard word to avoid with this show), snaps and crackles with life. The dances at the end of the first act, one with dancers balancing bottles on their heads and the other a mad whirl of wedding merry-making, come across glowingly.
For the scenes that run to duets and dialogue, the smaller actions, the scenery serves as a frame, cutting down the overwhelming vastness of the stage. But although songs, even solos, come across with no diminished force, the breadth of stage may, in a wee way, detract from the intimacy of scenes in which only two or three persons are up front.
Mr. Bernardi has a wonderful way with the person of Tevye. With his sagging shoulders and weary walk that mask a strength of body and character, he is the very essence of the poor man who perseveres through family tsoriss, through pogrom, through uprooting. He questions the Lord and he is constantly quoting and misquoting Scriptures. Mr. Bernardi is so much at home as Tevye, you might, in momentary lapse of fancy, imagine that you are listening to Sholom Aleichem in original Yiddish. Higher praise you won't get.
Miss Karnilova makes a splendid Golde, one who knows how to make a husband feel that he is running the family while she herself is the power behind the throne. Ruth Jaroslow plays a robust, gossipy Yente (could there be any other kind of yente?), and fits the role easily, as she should, because she played it in ''Fiddler's'' first national road company. Paul Lipson, who on Broadway played the elderly butcher who wants to marry one of Tevye's daughters, is a butcher again, a feisty widower who knows how not to hold a grudge while constantly harboring one.
The cast is entirely well-suited to carrying out the ''Fiddler'' tradition. James Werner is a sweet-voiced tenor in the role of Perchik, the young radical, and Michelan Sisti is every bit the frightened suitor, a good word for a tailor, who finally screws up his courage to approach Tevye and ask for his daughter's hand in marriage. As the three little maids from Anatevka, Tevye's oldest daughters, Lori Ada Jaroslav, Donalyn Petrucci and Liz Larsen are a winsome and tuneful trio.
''Fiddler'' will run for seven weeks at Lincoln Center. If you have not seen it live, you will have the thrill of discovery. If you have seen it before, there is the thrill of rediscovery. As the Good Book says, or maybe it's some other book, here is proof that you can eat your cake and have it to. ''Fiddler'' is a tasty piece of cake.