In many ways Fiddler on the Roof — which debuted an amazing 50 years ago — rewrote the book on musicals. It was a comedy, with a bubbly score that also incorporated ethnic melodies and traditional dances while it took heartbreaking turns. Set at the turn of the century in a small Russian village, it’s a slice-of-life peek at Jews living a precarious existence (like a “fiddler on the roof”) until pogroms will eventually pave the way for the Holocaust. And it resonates as strongly today as it did in the 1960s.
Lyric Stage’s production, which recreates (as has become their style) the original arrangements with a 35-piece orchestra (led by Jay Dias) and a cast of 40, proves again they “get” what a classic is, and why it has become one. Sometimes it feels unfathomable not just that founding producer Steven Jones and director Len Pfluger were able to find three dozen (mostly) local actors who can sing and dance and act, but that they are all right for their parts. Jason Kane leads the way as Tevye with a hulking gait and a strong voice, which actually resonates stronger in Act 2 when he should be feeling worn out. But this exquisite show moves along (even at three hours) like gossamer in the wind.
Nice Work If You Can Get It has an easier time at seeming light-hearted. Based on the songs of George and Ira Gershwin (most originally composed for the 1920s trifle Oh, Kay!), this recent B’way hit (with a new book by Joe DiPietro and a revived staging from Dallas Summer Musicals) soars on the conventions of musical comedies: Gangsters, gadabouts, gasbags and chorines, all toe-tappingly energetic among the frivolity.
Don’t downplay the positives of frivolity, though. This production (the start of a national tour and, sadly, non-Equity) manages panache and good doses of humor, and if it isn’t quite the classic that Fiddler is, well, the Gershwins have stood the test of time, and for good reason.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 12, 2014.