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Fiddler on the Roof 

One of America's best musicals remains one of its most underappreciated.

Lewis J. Stadlen in Pittsburgh CLO's Fiddler on the Roof

Photo courtesy of Matt Polk

Lewis J. Stadlen in Pittsburgh CLO's Fiddler on the Roof

If I were a rich man, I'd offer the Pittsburgh CLO a couple hundred rubles to keep Fiddler on the Roof in town a few more days.

It's that good.

One of America's best musicals remains one of its most underappreciated. The universal theme that love can conquer anything resonates more than ever.

There's a lot riding on the actor who plays Teyve, the village milkman who struggles to secure a future for his daughters, and his family's Jewish identity, in czarist Russia. Zero Mostel placed his inedible stamp on the role he originated in 1964, but in this production, Lewis J. Stadlen comes from Russia with love. The last time I saw LJ was more than 40 years ago, when he was prancing around the stage of New York's Imperial Theatre, playing Groucho Marx in Minnie's Boys. Decades later, Stadlen still has the ability to make a role his own. His is a Teyve brimming with charm and exuberance, leaning heavily on humor. Watch the milkman's gruff façade soften, especially when he returns again and again to the l-word; more than often there's a twinkle in Stadlen's eyes as he mumbles and grumbles and misquotes Scripture.

Emily Shoolin, in a Mary Wickes sort of way, is marvelous as eldest daughter Tzeitel. She and Anne Markt and Lauren Worsham (playing two more of Teyve's five daughters) are smart enough never to compete. Instead, they allow the signature "Matchmaker, Matchmaker" to work its lyrical charm. Single folks may never look at a mop in the same way again.

Paul Sannerud's set is simplistic, and far enough removed from Boris Aronson's original design to help us see the village of Anatevka in a new light. It's great to see that Jerome Robbins' original choreography has been so faithfully reproduced by Mark Esposito, especially welcome in "Bottle Dance." Director Jack Allison keeps the lengthy musical moving along without sacrificing vitality or warmth.

There are some issues with this production: sound glitches on opening night, big wigs that are awful, Tim Hartman, as a Russian constable, speaking in perfect English. 

But such quibbles are easily forgiven: Love conquers all.

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