"Tradition" -- the rich tradition of a landmark Broadway musical -- is being sung and celebrated at the Lincoln Center State Theater as "Fiddler on the Roof" returns triumphantly to New York for the first time since 1977. From the stirring Anatevkan salute of the opening scene to the final, tearful evacuation of the world of Sholom Aleichem as retold in Joseph STein's libretto and the irresistible Jerry Bock-Sheldon Harnick music and lyrics, and with Jerome Robbins once more in command as director and choreographer, "Fiddler on the Roof" is an entertainment to be savored and treasured.
"Everyone here knows who he is and what God expects him to do," explains dairyman Tevye (Herschel Bernardi), interrupting his rounds to explain the local situation. But scarcely have Tevye's three eldest daughters forsaken their chores for the lilting "Matchmaker, Matchmaker" when tradition begins to crumble. Tzeitel (Lori Ada Jaroslow) rejects her father's choice of husband, the wealthy Lazar Wolf (Paul Lipson), for Motel (Michael Sisti), the mousy tailor who becomes a man. Hodel (Donalyn Petrucci) clings to Perchik, the radical teacher (James Werner), even when it means sharing his Siberian exile. And worst of all, Chava (Liz Larsen) elopes with Fyedka (Joel Robertson), who is not even Jewish.
Surrounding the active romantic life of Tevye's household is the bustling, gossipy, deeply religious world of Anatevka itself -- a world constantly threatened by some new act of czarist repression. But whatever their mood or predicament, a resilient and astonished zest for life sustains these Russian- Jewish folk. That is why, for all of its ultimate sadness, "Fiddler on the Roof" is upbeat and life-affirming.
Bock and Harnick have written songs for every mood. Without listing once more so many familiar titles, one might simply say that the score is itself a "Miracle of Miracles." Both for its singing and dancing, the latest production staged by Jerome Robbins, who directed and choreographed the first "Fiddler," might well be called definitive. Veterans of the 1964 original and/or subsequent versions include many cast members as well as musical director Richard Vitzhum.
Mr. Bernardi's Tevye radiates affection and humanity. There is at times a charming diffidence to his conversations with God and invariably a philosophic resignation to his self-debates. Mr. Bernardi can thunder the clamorous protestations of "If I Were a Rich Man" or defer to the tender melancholy of "Chavaleh." "Do You Love Me," with Maria Karnilova's sharply affectionate Golde, is, as it should be, a high point of this endearing and enduring love story.
The lyric quality of the production is everywhere displayed -- and nowhere more eloquently than in the fresh colors of Boris Aronson's impressionistic backdrops and movable set pieces. "Fiddler on the Roof" epitomizes once more the captivating magic of the theater.