FIDDLER ON THE ROOF at Des Moines Performing Arts

One of the things I’ve come to appreciate about Des Moines Performing Arts is their willingness to bring covers as part of the Willis Broadway series. Their commitment to reshoots has brought in some of my favorite productions over the past few seasons. What’s so great about revivals is that they repeatedly take a fresh look at classic material. It could focus on an element of the series that was not previously focused. At other times, it might be about looking at the show through an understanding of current events. On Tuesday night, Des Moines Performing Arts took the stage for the nationwide tour of “Fiddler on the Roof,” the 2016 Tony-nominated cover, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
“Fiddler on the Roof” begins with a relatively bare scene, with a man in a jacket and a sign reading Anatevka. As the lights come on, we hear a train whistle. It struck me in the current political climate that this could represent an immigrant. He slowly pulls out a book or journal, and when he opens it, the story begins. This ordinary immigrant becomes Tevye, the leader of the series. He begins to share his story about how important his traditions are to him. As the show begins, we begin to see what is happening with him, his wife, and three daughters as they begin to change their traditions. We see how the Jewish community around them perceives these changes. Meanwhile, we hear about Russia taking control of closer territories and showing up in the community when they disrupt the wedding of Tevye’s eldest daughter at the end of Act 1. Things can- do they get worse? To find out, you’ll have to see the show.
Watching this show, I enjoyed the approach director Bartlett Sher and the design team took to this show. Usually when this team comes together, we get a lavish retelling of a classic story. With this narrative, they held back on the gorgeous sets and stunning costumes we’re used to seeing and still delivered a great production that’s not to be missed. There are times in the show where the opulence of the set and costumes are used, but these are key moments where it pushes the story forward. An example is Catherine Zuber’s costume from Tevye’s Dream. The costumes of all deceased ancestors coming to the wedding, we can bring the most fantastic designs that you are used to creating for his shows.
Like any production, while the creative team tells a visual story, we would only get the full story with the show’s cast. Jonathan Hashmonay, as Tevye, brings this character of everyone to the role. As the series progresses, he becomes a character we can all identify with, laugh at, and hurt. He has a great match with Maite Uzal as Golde. She brings a strength to Golde that I have never seen before. She becomes an excellent foil for Tevye de Hashmonay. The moment she allows Golde to get emotional and break down has a significant impact on the series.
So many other cast members have found ways to take what we know about these characters and find a way to bring their character into a 20th century lens. Chava de Yardén Barr, is no longer just a book reader but a woman who goes against society and wants a better education for herself. Fyedka, from Carson Robinette, is an outsider to the community but does not put up with the mistreatment of Jews like others do. Its small details, like these two actors, and many others, bring to their roles, make it a production of today and one that you could see again and again.
Whether it’s your first visit to Anatevka or you’re coming back to see this story on stage again, the nationwide tour of “Fiddler on the Roof” is a sight not to be missed. It’s in the Des Moines Performing Arts tradition of staging familiar stories in a way that makes us reflect on the present day as audiences. This production continues until October 30.