Here's Ben Brantley's (somewhat mixed) review of Harvey Fierstein in Fiddler, from today's New York Times:
An Exotic Tevye in Old Anatevka
By BEN BRANTLEY
A kazoo has joined the music makers of the placid Broadway revival of "Fiddler on the Roof" at the Minskoff Theater. From the moment it sounds its first word, Harvey Fierstein's voice causes an entire audience to prick up its ears in the manner of a dog startled by a sharp whistle.
Heard not so long ago issuing from the plus-size form of Edna Turnblad, the agoraphobic housewife in the musical "Hairspray," Mr. Fierstein's voice is one of the most distinctive in theater, belonging to the legend-making league of those of Carol Channing and Glynis Johns. And though a kazoo is what it most often brings to mind, it also variously evokes a congested saxophone, wind in a bottle and echoes from a crypt. It is, in a way, its own multicolored show. Whether it fits comfortably into the little Russian village of Anatevka, where "Fiddler" is set, is another issue.
When David Leveaux's production of this much-loved, much-performed 40-year-old musical of life on a Jewish shtetl first opened last February, it was notable principally for its elegant, autumnal set (by Tom Pye) and its anesthetizing blandness. In the central role of Tevye the milkman, a part created in 1964 by Zero Mostel, the usually excellent Alfred Molina seemed sad, tentative and often absent. The whole show appeared to suffer from a similar lack of engagement with its material.
Mr. Leveaux, the fashionable London director behind the Broadway revivals of "Nine" and Tom Stoppard's "Jumpers," may have been aiming for a tone of lyrical lament, of a goodbye to a folkloric way of life about to disappear. But it has always been the robustness as well as the sentimentality of Jerry Bock's and Sheldon Harnick's songs and Joseph Stein's book that has made "Fiddler" such an enduring favorite. Led by the somnambulistic Mr. Molina, and a bizarrely chic Randy Graff as Tevye's wife, Golde, Mr. Leveaux's interpretation sometimes barely had a pulse.
That omission has been remedied to some extent by Mr. Molina's new replacement. Even at his quietest, Mr. Fierstein, who won a Tony Award for "Hairspray," has the presence of a waking volcano. And lest anyone think he needs drag to be big, let it be noted that he wears Tevye's tattered trousers with a homey and winning ease. To see the gray-bearded, bright-eyed Mr. Fierstein pulling a horseless milk cart with sardonic resignation is, you may well think, to look upon the image of the Tevye of the Sholem Aleichem stories that inspired the show.
It is Mr. Fierstein's greatest asset as a performer, that unmistakable voice, that perversely shatters this illusion. Theatergoers who saw - or more to the point heard - this actor in "Hairspray" will require at least 10 minutes to banish echoes of Edna. But even audience members unfamiliar with Mr. Fierstein may find him a slightly jarring presence.
Tevye must to some degree be an everyman, albeit in exaggerated, crowd-pleasing form. And Mr. Fierstein, bless him, shakes off any semblance of ordinariness as soon as he opens his mouth. Every phrase he speaks or sings, as he shifts uncannily among registers, becomes an event. And the effect is rather as if Ms. Channing were playing one of Rodgers and Hammerstein's simple, all-American heroines in "Oklahoma!" or "Carousel."
A master of droll comic melodramas in fringe theater long before he became a Broadway star with his "Torch Song Trilogy" in 1982, Mr. Fierstein inflects every line with at least a touch of the grandeur of old Hollywood movies, whether he's being husky with sentimentality, smoky with regret or growly with displeasure.
This can be quite a bit of fun. Tevye's first solo, "If I Were a Rich Man," takes on a fascinating new life, as Mr. Fierstein slides and rasps through its wordless connecting phrases. But it is sometimes hard to credit this exotic spirit as that of a tradition-bound father who has trouble making the adjustment to changing times.
Andrea Martin, who has replaced Ms. Graff as Golde, might do well to borrow a bit of Mr. Fierstein's idiosyncracy. This actress, who first came to attention as a flamboyantly eccentric comedian on "SCTV," is on her best behavior here, as if being in a classic Broadway musical meant being quiet and dignified. (She was livelier in the recent revival of "Oklahoma!")There is nothing jolting or inappropriate in her performance, but there is nothing memorable either.
The same might be said of the rest of the show, though Tricia Paoluccio and Laura Shoop bring a fresh and welcome piquancy as two of Tevye's five daughters. John Cariani, who was nominated for a Tony as the nerdy Motel the tailor, has now pushed his performance to grating comic extremes.
The onstage orchestra sounds perfectly pleasant, and the dancing, restaged by Jonathan Butterell from Jerome Robbins's original choreography, is agreeable. Yet somewhere there is a disconnect between Mr. Leveaux's elegiac reimagining of "Fiddler," evident in its poetically somber look, and the dinner-theater-style comic performances of much of the cast. To mourn the passing of the traditional life of Anatevka, you need to have an organic and fluid sense of that life that this production rarely achieves.
As for the show's new Tevye, it would seem that this "Fiddler" has gone from having too little of a personality at its center to having too much of one.
Still, as Tevye himself might argue, better an overspiced feast than a famine.
Thanks bree. I knew that it was about time for Harvey to get reviewed...
The Wall Street Journal's review, by Terry Teachout, is a lot more positive. I can't copy the whole thing in here because you have to have a paid subscription to the WSJ to read it online (I'm looking at it in print), but here are some excerpts:
"his voice, which sounds like a bullfrog stuck in a double bass, makes a decidedly odd impression in "Sunrise, Sunset" and "Sabbath Prayer."
Still, he more than makes up in comic prowess for what he lacks in vocal luster,. and though he hasn't combed all the "Hairspray" out of his intermittently flouncy mugging, Mr. Fierstein rises effortlessly - as well as believably - to "Fiddler"'s not-infrequent moments of high drama. Warmly paternalistic with his wayward daughters, darkly inward as he crashes head-on into the harsh demands of tradition, he pulls off a role he wasn't born to play, and does it with honesty and style."
The review also has praise for Andrea Martin, saying that "her voice isn't all that much higher than his (this must be the first "Fiddler" in which Tevye and Golde are sung by a bass and baritone), but her plain-spoken, no-nonsense performance is right in every other way, and she and Mr. Fierstein even contrive to make something fresh and affecting out of "Do You Love Me?" - no small trick after 40 years of hard use."
Kissel was even less enthusiastic in the NY Daily News:
Fierstein isn't fit
as a 'Fiddler'
Andrea Martin is now playing Golde and Harvey Fierstein is Tevye in the Broadway revival of 'Fiddler on the Roof' at the Minskoff.
Fiddler on the Roof. Musical by Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick and Joseph Stein. With Harvey Fierstein, Andrea Martin and others. At the Minskoff. Tickets: $35-$100. (212) 307-4100.
When the current revival of "Fiddler on the Roof" opened a year ago, with Alfred Molina as Tevye, there were complaints that its British director, David Leveaux, had made it too bland, as if he had geared it toward tourists who might not be able to accept a truly Jewish "Fiddler."
The current Tevye is Harvey Fierstein, who is unmistakably Jewish. But is that enough?
When you think about it, the Jewishness of Tevye is almost beside the point. The reason the 1964 Jerry Bock-Sheldon Harnick musical has swept the globe is because it's about a man whose understanding of his world is challenged - and overturned - at every moment, which is the case with everyone living in the modern world. The Jews are just an extreme example.
What makes Fierstein's performance unsatisfying is that he doesn't project any of the depth of Tevye's dilemma. He sees it as a series of comic turns.
At times, in fact, I wondered if Leveaux had come back to direct him or whether the task had been entrusted to Gerard Alessandrini, who does "Forbidden Broadway." Too often it seems like a parody of "Fiddler, " rather than the real thing.
At first, I thought I might find Fierstein appealing because that famous gravel voice suddenly conjured up my cousin Chaike, whom I had not thought about in nearly 50 years, but the "family resemblance" was not enough to sustain interest.
Although Fierstein gets most of the music, the voice itself eventually becomes, like any running gag, tiresome.
More important, one does not have the sense of a bedeviled father or a man who has a passionate, embattled relationship with God but rather an actor eager to please an admiring audience.
In addition to the comedy, which, of course, he does with gusto, there are emotional moments he does not deliver.
Andrea Martin, for example, who plays his wife, Golde, splendidly, has a shattering moment when she screams in joy on seeing Chava, the daughter who married a Gentile. It pierces the heart.
Fierstein does not get as much out of the corresponding moment, when Tevye struggles not even to look at Chava.
The daughters themselves at this point in the run seem unusually highstrung, but there's no getting around the fact that shtetl life was very stressful.
Musically, some of the best moments were "Miracle of Miracles," sung by the wonderfully zany John Cariani as Mottl, and Patrick Heusinger's lines as Fyedka in "To Life."
The production as a whole has held up well, especially its most inventive scene, the Chagall-esque treatment of Tevye's dream.
Ultimately, it is the show itself that remains towering as a rock, projecting its power and poignance beyond the limitations of any performer.
Originally published on January 21, 2005
See, this is why we need to see it for ourselves. Two reviews in complete contradiction of one another.
oooo. didn't see Kissel's review...
and this is why I NEED to go to New York.
Maybe not see this offering (though I'm hoping to), but New York's got it going on!
Here's yet another review, this one by Michael Feingold (in my opinion, the best drama critic in New York) in the Village Voice:
Gay In Good Health
That makes sense. Good review.
Great review. He hits on the issues that I wanted to hear about!
This is a big part of why I want to witness this show. It's not just a show. Fierstein in this role is a cultural phenomena, the beginning of...something. Not sure what yet but it's important, I think.
I thought I'd revive this old thread to mention some news/rumors about the current Broadway production of Fiddler.
The show has posted a closing notice for January 6. Harvey Fierstein is still playing Tevye, and there has been no talk of his leaving, so it looks as if he's planning to stay to the end.
However, Andrea Martin -- who went into the show as Golde at the same time Harvey took over as Tevye -- left the show on July 31, and the role is currently being played by her understudy. Rumor has it that Rosie O'Donnell may take over as Golde in September. If she does, that should give the box office a boost for the last few months of the run.
Thanks for the bump, bree.
Yes, very interesting rumor, bree. Thanks!
I saw Rosie in Seussical a while back. Can't quite picture her as Golde with grown daughters...
<grinned and thought of you kids when I saw this>
Thanks for thinking of us, bethie!
I hope you'll be with me the next time I hit theatre row, maxisoneinamillion.