Tuesday, February 24, 2009
This weekend my wife and I had the pleasure of seeing the one and only Chaim Topol perform as Tevye in Fiddler On The Roof at the Benedum. Fiddler came out in 1971. At the time Topol was 36 years old, starring as a man much older and beaten down by the hard life in Anatevka. Now in his seventies, Topol is every bit the part of Tevye he was back then, with the same talent, the same voice, the same humor, and perhaps less makeup.
For many Jews, just seeing the movie is a required right of passage. Fiddler is to Judaism what It's a Wonderful Life is to Christmas (note that I said Christmas, not Christianity. Fiddler is that much more important). I myself has seen it perhaps 4 times, and I believe my wife has seen it around 40 times. Sunrise, Sunset and If I Were A Rich Man roll off our tongues more easily than the Sabbath prayers. We were both very excited to have the opportunity to see Topol himself perform, and we weren't disappointed.
The show was phenomenal. Billed as his "farewell", from the moment he walked on stage to the final standing ovation, there was a palpable feeling in the air that the audience was witnessing something special. Tears formed during his closing bow and standing ovation. For those of you not Jewish, imagine Jimmy Stewart coming back from the dead to perform It's a Wonderful Life on Broadway. Now imagine Terry Bradshaw performing as he did in the 70's, winning the next four Superbowls. Then, imagine Washington himself coming back to cross the Delaware one more time. Toss in a little bit of Jesus walking on water, and none of that put together even comes close to the feeling of seeing Topol point to the sky and say, "I know, I know. We are Your chosen people. But, once in a while, can't You choose someone else?" It truly was a religious experience.
The show itself stuck very closely to the movie. There was very little left out of the stage play. The sets were fantastic, revolving from Tevye's modest home to the town center, to the train station, to Motel's tailor shop smoothly and effortlessly. And all the supporting characters did impeccable jobs representing the characters of the movie closely. I could only imagine what was on their minds: "holy crap! I'm doing Fiddler with Topol!"
I enjoy the theatre, but I'm not a huge theatre buff. However I must say this was the most enjoyable and fulfilling show I've ever seen. Maybe because I have that special connection to the show that so many members of our tribe have. Maybe because it was Topol himself. Or maybe because, just once, thanks to my lovely wife we don't have to say, years down the road, "aw, we should have seen Fiddler with Topol back when..."
Because As the good book says, when a poor man eats a chicken, one of them is sick. Well, it doesn't say that exactly, but somewhere there is something about a chicken.
Lazar Wolf: How is it going with you, Reb Tevye?
Tevye: How should it go?
Lazar Wolf: You are right.
Tevye: And you?
Lazar Wolf: The same.
Tevye: I'm sorry to hear that.