In Grace Paley's charming autobiographical story "The Loudest Voice," a Jewish mother in 1930s Brooklyn is aghast when her daughter announces she's been selected to narrate the decidedly non-secular school Christmas pageant. Dad, however, is more philosophical, saying "You're in America! In Palestine the Arabs would be eating you alive. Europe you had pogroms. Here you got Christmas."
On the one hand, Tevye, the poor Jewish milkman from Anatevka in Czarist Russia, might agree with the father in Paley's tale. Why not make the best of a not-so-bad bargain? On the other hand, those who betray their faith break a bond not only with God, but with the past and future as well.
The non-Equity road tour of "Fiddler on the Roof" that's making a pit stop at the Auditorium (just in time for the secular Black Friday holiday) has plenty of the color and spirit of the shtetl on display, despite sets that feel a little lost on the stage and a pit orchestra on the slim side. Sammy Dallas Bayes' direction and choreography (based on the original by Jerome Robbins) features plenty of wit and charm. It's a safe, crowd-pleasing production — but not a particularly inspired one.
Those who saw Topol in his farewell tour at the Oriental Theatre two years ago will find the deeper emotional resonance of Tevye missing in John Preece's ingratiating but too-tidy portrayal. He's a jovial Job whose asides to the Almighty fall short of capturing the anguished-but-stoic Everyman whose entire family and way of life is threatened by forces both outside (the Cossacks who are breathing down their necks) and inside (daughters who have the outlandish notion of marrying whomever they choose).
On the one hand, when Preece's Tevye turns his back on his daughter Chava (Chelsey LeBel), who has broken his heart by marrying a Gentile, it doesn't feel like a personal tragedy. On the other hand, the scene where he bids farewell to Hodel (Sarah Sesler), who is following her beloved radical beau, Perchik, (Joshua Phan-Gruber) to Siberia, comes closer to achieving the heartache that this show can churn up in the right hands. Similarly, the "Sabbath Prayer" scene, with all the Jewish residents of Anatevka united in a quiet tableau of faith and family, reminds us of the vital importance of both institutions to these embattled people.
But despite the lack of deeper emotional stakes here, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick's score remains a rich interweaving of stirring Jewish folk music and tender ballads. This "Fiddler" still has enough spring in its step to provide a satisfying antidote to the over-amplified carols and rampant consumerism of the dominant holiday tradition.
When: Through Sunday
Where: Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Pkwy
Running time: 2 hours, 50 minutes
Tickets: $26-$85 at 800-775-2000 or broadwayinchicago.comCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times