The Tevye who first emerges in the latest revival of “ Fiddler on the Roof ” is wearing a modern winter jacket and reads the opening lines tentatively, as if from a history book. Then he strips off the jacket and melts into 1905.
It’s a simple and elegant way to connect the past with the present and the first sign that you are in thoughtful hands. The “Fiddler” that opened Sunday at the Broadway Theatre under the leadership of director Bartlett Sher is vibrant and brilliant and heartfelt.
Over at Lincoln Center, Sher and his team this past spring breathed life into that dusty show “The King and I” and lightening has struck twice here. They’ve made one of the last great musicals of Broadway’s Golden Age urgent and profound.
Set in rural, pre-Revolutionary Russia, the tale of Tevye and fellow Russian Jews being forced to flee is a universal one. But audiences at this revival won’t be able to miss the parallels to real life as Europe witnesses the greatest movement of refugees since World War II.
Still, it’s Tevye’s battles with tradition that is at the center of this classic Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick and Joseph Stein musical, with a list of songs that are pure bliss. And the musical usually rises or falls on the performance of its leading man.
This time, it’s Danny Burstein and he is superb, just the right amount of humor and anger and endless love. Burstein, a veteran of “Cabaret” and “The Drowsy Chaperone,” is a playful and human Tevye, without falling into stereotype or precedent. He sometime cheekily addresses the audience, as if to enlist our support in his various conversations with God.
His three rebellious daughters are also sublime, from Alexandra Silber’s soulful Tzeitel to a luminous, heartbreaking Samantha Massell and a bookish-revolutionary Melanie Moore. They are a joy to hear and watch as they weigh their new romances with the heartbreak they are making their father endure.
The only odd note in this show is Jessica Hecht’s Golde, who is too shrill and one dimensional, and struggles with the vocal requirements. She never reveals her crusted-over warmth and her duet with Tevye “Do You Love Me?” is consequently underwhelming.