I fully knew what I was getting myself into when I sought out a press ticket for Fiddler on the Roof at the Lyric Opera. As a lifelong devotee of the show, with a deep spiritual connection to the material, I suppose it was inevitable that my biases (unavoidable for any critic) would eventually spiral into full-fledged opinions about how I believe Fiddler should be done. And indeed, in a dismaying and ironic twist, it turns out that I am a bit of a “traditionalist” when it comes to Fiddler. When somebody tries to get even a little bit artsy or figurative with it, my inner old fogey inevitably rises to the surface (although to be fair, he’s never that far below), and so this is an important grain of salt to keep in mind as you read.
This is not to say that I did not enjoy this production; far from it. But for every element onstage that left me cackling with glee, there was another that I found utterly and completely baffling. Many of the directorial choices seem utterly disconnected from Fiddler’s themes. The musical is almost 60 years old at this point — and yes, a new production that’s basically just a remount, with no new choices and nothing new to say, isn’t going to cut it these days. However, it feels like the director’s choices to change certain aspects were made without a full comprehension or appreciation of the work’s themes. Fiddler is an incredibly intelligent show, with many crucial little details that all fold together in a complex clockwork of joy and heartbreak. Messing with that clockwork, then, is not a task that should be entered into lightly, and one which can easily be derailed.