Newly displaced people trundle in strained silence in circles near the end of "Fiddler on the Roof," a black-and-white image of dispossession and displacement. If the people are the spokes of a bicycle wheel, at the center is the fiddler, a figure that represents cultural continuity and spiritual wealth for the Jews stripped of worldly possessions in the Russian shtetl of Anatevka.
That stage metaphor takes on a poetic power in director Bartlett Sher's Broadway tour of "Fiddler," speaking with freshness and urgency to timeless themes in the 1964 classic by book writer Joseph Stein, composer Jerry Bock and lyricist Sheldon Harnick.
This "Fiddler," which opened Tuesday at the Ordway Center in St. Paul, is the same moving Broadway tour that played Minneapolis' Orpheum Theatre in summer 2019, headlined by Israeli screen star Yehezkel Lazarov as milkman Tevye and featuring the choreography of Hofesh Shechter.
Lazarov was affecting then and is just as powerful in this production. But it feels more magnificent and breathes differently. That may have something to do with the architecture of the Ordway stage, which is just as grand but not as rigidly proscenium as that of the Orpheum, allowing the subtleties and nuances to be seen and heard with more crispness and clarity.
Tevye, for example, has a running dialogue with God throughout the show, a figure he sees as unresponsive and remote. In Lazarov's reading of the part, there's never a question of Tevye's faith. But the actor mines these interior dialogues for new humor as a man who sees God as inexplicably sovereign and wonders if he could act, every now and then, like an attentive maître d'.
When Tevye sings "If I Were a Rich Man," it's not just about things that he would collect but the choices he and his family would have. Of course, Tevye is a rich man but not in the ways he or the world appreciates. He has a wise, caring and devoted wife, Golde (Maite Uzal). They have "Tradition," although that's constantly under pressure from the modern world. Daughter number one, Tzeitel (Kelly Gabrielle Murphy) shuns matchmaker Yente (Brooke Wetterhahn with perfect timing) and wants to marry tailor Motel (Daniel Kushner) for love. Radical.
Daughter number two, Hodel (Ruthy Froch) wants to run off with a radical Kiev university student, Perchik (Solomon Reynolds). They have the gall to tell Tevye that they do not seek his permission to marry. And daughter number three, Chava (Noa Luz Barenblat), ditches everything and gives her heart to Fyedka (Jack O'Brien), a member of the persecuting Cossacks.
The music, conducted by Jonathan Marro, pairs with Donald Holder's lighting, Michael Yeargan's spare, modern set and, especially, Shechter's choreography to create scenes that are thrillingly evocative.
It is a show that one may have seen countless times. And we may even know the dialogue and the scenes, including the famed bottle dance. But during this holiday season, this renewed "Fiddler" speaks to the power of stories.
In the end, the show suggests we are people made not just of flesh and bones but of words, melodies and dreams.
'Fiddler on the Roof'
Who: Composed by Jerry Bock with lyrics by Sheldon Harnick and book by Joseph Stein. Directed by Bartlett Sher.
When: 7:30 p.m. Tue.-Fri.; 2 & 7:30 p.m. Sat. & Sun. Ends Dec. 12, when there is one show, at 2 p.m.
Where: Ordway Center, 345 Washington St., St. Paul.
Tickets: $48-$122. 651-224-4222 or ordway.org.
Protocol: Proof of vaccination or negative COVID test. Masks required.