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THEATER REVIEW : Theodore Bikel’s Tevye Finally Makes It to L.A.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Theodore Bikel accepted a bouquet and briefly addressed the audience after his 1,200th performance as Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof” at the Pantages Theatre Wednesday. Yet the evening was also a first.

Strange but true: This was opening night of Bikel’s first Tevye within the city of Los Angeles. He did the role for a week in Pasadena last year, and he maintains a home here. But somehow his Tevye had skipped over L.A.

It was L.A.'s loss. Bikel and Tevye are as natural a match as, say, Tevye’s oldest daughter Tzeitel and Motel the tailor.

Bikel looks like Tevye--young enough to have pubescent daughters and to shake a leg during a party, old enough to sigh and sometimes sag under the weight of his years of toil.

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Despite 1,200 performances, his voice remains a rich instrument. He sings with flair, of course, but his vocal resonance is even more striking in his spoken dialogue, as he alters his pitch and volume for each moment. He infuses his more florid speeches with the rhythms of Hebrew prayer.

Yet this milkman doesn’t milk his role for every last drop of shtick. Like the fiddler on the roof, Bikel balances his performance masterfully, knowing when to play his cadenzas, when to blend.

In his moves as well as his sound, Bikel’s tenure as Tevye has given him a great sense of assurance, not complacency or boredom. His eyes still betray wariness over the initial overtures of the soldiers and then shock at their later behavior.

The rest of the ensemble is in fine form. Rebecca Hoodwin maintains Golde’s dignity and has a strong, clear alto. The three older daughters and their suitors are drawn with clarity and strength, with Stacey Lynn Brass particularly moving as Chava, the one who marries outside the faith.

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Bruce Alan Johnson plays her suitor with a rural twang that sounds too American. On the other hand, as Tevye would say, we already suspend our disbelief of the fact that they’re speaking English; why not differentiate the local goyim from the Jews by accent?

The apparition of Lazar’s first wife in the dream sequence is more comic than frightful. She’s not as tall or as colorful as some I’ve seen, but her giant pearls give her a look that’s amusingly reminiscent of a Miami Beach matron.

Sammy Dallas Bayes reproduced most of Jerome Robbins’ original staging and choreography; most people like this wonderful Joseph Stein/Jerry Bock/Sheldon Harnick creation just the way it was. As they say in the opening number, you don’t mess with tradition. * “Fiddler on the Roof,” Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m.; Saturdays-Sundays, 2 p.m. Ends Jan. 29. $20-$45. (213) 480-3232. At Copley Symphony Hall, San Diego, Feb. 7-12. At Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, March 14-19. At McCallum Theatre, Palm Desert, March 28-April 2. Running time: 2 hours, 55 minutes.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

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Theodore Bikel: Tevye Rebecca Hoodwin: Golde Joanna Glushak: Tzeitel Michele Ragusa: Hodel Stacey Lynn Brass: Chava Chevi Colton: Yenta John Preece: Lazar Wolf Daniel C. Cooney: Perchik James Kall: Motel Bruce Alan Johnson: Fyedka Jerry Matz: Rabbi Michael Ianucci: Mendel David Masters: Mordcha Robert Frisch: Constable Elisa Sagardia: Bielke, Grandma Tzeitel Terry Kaye: Shprintze Holly Evers, Nick Rafello: Fruma-Sarah Frank Anderson: Avram Arthur Atkinson: The Fiddler Presented by Robert Young, Nicholas C. Litrenta and Gregory Young. Book by Joseph Stein, based on Sholom Aleichem stories. Music by Jerry Bock. Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick. Original staging by Jerome Robbins, reproduced by Sammy Dallas Bayes. Lights by Steve Cochrane. Costumes by Michael Bottari and Ronald Case. Sound by Mark Cowburn. Musical director Sheilah Walker. Production stage manager Joseph Sheridan.


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