The music is always reason enough to go, but the production of Fiddler on the Roof now showing at Seattle's Paramount Theatre offers much, much more than the gorgeous, haunting Tony-and-Oscar-award-winning score.
From the opening moments, with Russian villagers in humble garb celebrating their devotion to "Tradition," to the acutely bittersweet duet about enduring love ("Do You Love Me?"), this production pulls at the heartstrings. When I wasn't fighting the urge to sing along, I was just grinning, wrapped up in the spectacle of the vivid sets, brilliant Jerome Robbins staging and choreography, and, of course, that glorious music.
Harvey Fierstein's Tevye - much lauded and beloved - took a little getting used to, especially for a girl raised on the Zero Mostel model of the poor Russian milkman. Fierstein's voice is gruff and gravel; challenging on some of the more melodic songs, including the unforgettable "If I Were a Rich Man."
But Fierstein's acting is superb; all wry acceptance and wit, eyes rolling ever-heavenward as he contemplates his latest trial. And Tevye faces many, with five daughters flying in the face of his beloved traditions and a Russian czar sending troops to hassle - and finally evict - the Jewish villagers. Watching Fierstein's Tevye struggle for grace and good humor as daughter after daughter -- and soldier after soldier -- rocks his world is poignant in the extreme. His comic physicality borders on camp at times, but really, in the end, this is a deeply moral and ultimately admirable Tevye.
The rest of the cast is plenty strong, especially Tevye's dour, long-suffering wife Golda, played with proper intimidation by Susan Cella.
Should you take the kids? Yes - perhaps from about age 10. The first act of this production clocks in at a whopping 2:15; still, the two little girls sitting behind me seemed rapt, only really getting unruly when the ghost of Tevye's grandmother came towering and shrieking out on the stage in a delightfully overwrought dream sequence. That's a little scary, maybe, for younger kids. But most kids will love this show - especially those already lucky enough to know the music.
Runs through Sunday, May 30, with tickets available for evening shows and weekend matinees.