At Drury Lane: A Profound Interpretation of ‘Fiddler on the Roof’: Review

Yael Eden Chanukov, Emma Rosenthal and Abby Goldberg in “Fiddler on the Roof.” (Brett Beiner)Yael Eden Chanukov, Emma Rosenthal and Abby Goldberg in “Fiddler on the Roof.” (Brett Beiner)

It is difficult to describe just exactly how Elizabeth Margolius — the innovative, Jeff Award-winning director — has interpreted and very subtly modernized the ever-remarkable musical “Fiddler on the Roof” for a new production at the Drury Lane Theatre in suburban Oakbrook Terrace.

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Suffice it to say that Margolius has remained fully faithful to this ever-sensational 1964 work — with its superb score by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick and a tragicomic book by Joseph Stein (based on the stories of Sholem Aleichem, who grew up near Kyiv).

The story, set in 1905, focuses on a poor Jewish family that lives in Anatevka, a fictional shtetl (the Yiddish term for a small Jewish town) in the Pale of Settlement in Imperial Russia. But as the show unfolds on stage — and as it is described in an excellent program note by Margolius — it suggests something deeper than the problems of a man with a wife and five daughters, several of whom are approaching marital age.

Margolius refers to the quest of the musical’s original director, Jerome Robbins, and the importance he placed on a quote he found that noted “this is the story of the dissolution of a way of life.” And that quote clearly has inspired Margolius, too, as her production vividly captures a period of dramatic social and political change in subtle but powerful ways. A most impressive achievement.

Of course, at the center of the story is Tevye (winningly played by Mark David Kaplan), a poor Jewish milkman who is married to Golde (Janna Cardia), a rather bossy wife and the mother of their daughters, three of whom are of marriageable age. Clearly there is a dramatic social change in the air as these young women begin to rebel, and as they openly express their desire to freely choose their husbands rather than agreeing to the finds of Yenta (Janet Ulrich Brooks), the local matchmaker.

And then comes a sudden order from the Russian powers that be who oversee Anatevka who pronounce that all the Jews who have called this town home must pack up and leave within three days. The result is a dramatic immigration to the U.S., Jerusalem and elsewhere, as well as the marriage of one of Tevye’s daughters to a non-Jewish young man — something that comes very close to upending him.

Mark David Kaplan and company in “Fiddler on the Roof.” (Brett Beiner)Mark David Kaplan and company in “Fiddler on the Roof.” (Brett Beiner)

In addition to an outstanding cast, this Drury Lane production thrives on a superb orchestra ideally conducted by Christopher Sargent; deft choreography by Rommy Sandhu; the clever use of projections by Mike Tutaj; and a spare but effective set by Jack Magaw with lighting by Jason Lynch, costumes by Linda Roethke and meticulous sound by Ray Nardelli.

The actors (including a skilled chorus of singers and dancers) are uniformly winning. Along with Kaplan’s ideally natural but deftly temperament-shifting Tevye, there is Emma Rosenthal as Tzeitel, his oldest daughter, who boldly rejects the marriage arranged by Yenta, who is determined to pair her with Lazar Wolf (Joel Gelman), the town’s wealthy butcher who is probably as old as her father. From the start Tzeitel’s heart belongs to Motel (Michael Kurowski), an initially shy and penniless young man who plans to become a tailor once he is able to acquire a sewing machine. And so he does. An extremely elderly rabbi (ideally played by Bill McGough) oversees their marriage.

Next in line for a partner is Hodel (Yael Chanukov), who plans to wed Perchik (Zach Sorrow), the poor but educated young Marxist rebel who has come to town from Kyiv, but who soon heads back East to become part of a political revolution. And when Perchik ends up in a Siberian prison, Hodel bravely gets on a train and travels there to support him. As for Hodel’s sister, Chava (Abby Goldberg), the third daughter in line, she enrages her father the most by doing the unthinkable — marrying a sweet gentile boy, Fyedka (Grant Kilian), who shares her love of books. As for Tevye, he and the rest of his family prepare to head to America.

Overall, what is most remarkable about this production — a true breakthrough for Drury — is the way Margolius has so subtly yet powerfully tapped into this extraordinary musical in a way that infuses it with timely echoes of the chaotic world in which we live now. She has devised a remarkable interpretation of an enduring classic that could not be more profound for this moment in time.

“Fiddler on the Roof” runs through March 24 at the Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane in Oakbrook Terrace. For tickets, visit or phone 630-530-0111.

Note: Coming up at Drury Lane during the 2024 and early 2025 seasons are the following productions: “Guys and Dolls” (April 10-June 9); “Ain’t Misbehavin’: The Fats Waller Musical Show” (June 26-Aug. 18); “The Audience,” a British play (Aug. 28-Oct. 20); “The Little Mermaid” (Nov. 6-Jan. 12); and “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” (Jan. 29-March 30, 2025).

Follow Hedy Weiss on Twitter: @HedyWeissCritic

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