Choreography rules the roost in this rebooted ‘Fiddler on the Roof’

For those of a certain age, this is one of those warhorse musicals whose songs are firmly implanted in our cerebral cortex. From the first familiar notes scratched out on the fiddle, we’re in well-known territory, be it the funny longings of “If I Were A Rich Man” or “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” to the more somber moods of “Sunrise, Sunset” or “Sabbath Prayer.”

There’s little room to wonder why “Fiddler on the Roof,” which debuted on Broadway in 1964, remains popular: It’s a sad but often amusing story about family, traditions and change that’s full of great songs and memorable characters.

Tevye Fiddler on the Roof

Yehezekl Lazarov as Tevye in ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ – now playing at the Denver Center.

For those new to the show, the quick version of the plot goes like this: Tevye, a poor Jewish dairyman living in a Jews-only area of Russia in the early 1900s, is trying to manage his busy house of five daughters while outside forces are busting in on long-held traditions. One of those is that “the papa” makes the decisions about who gets married when and to whom, and with several daughters of marrying age, there’s plenty going on just on the domestic front.

Meanwhile, the tsar is forcing Jews out of their villages (because the tsar was a dick and Jews always get the shaft — although the “whys” are not really explored in the show), adding another enormous layer of stress to the lives of Tevye, his family and the inhabitants of the tiny village of Anatevka.

Modern ideas of marriage based on love versus the arranged kind shake up Tevye’s idea of “tradition,” but he’s an almost-woke kinda guy who can sense the winds of change and has a better idea than many in the village about when to bend and what hill to die on (like when your daughter marries a gentile).

The dance is the thing

This 2015 reboot, the touring version of which is at the Denver Center’s Buelle Theatre through Father’s Day (appropriate), is a worthy addition to the long line of Fiddler productions over the years. Against a relatively spare but highly functionable set, the cast has plenty of room for the superb dance numbers that really highlight this production.

Israeli actor Yehezekl Lazarov is our Tevye, an extremely likeable and funny portrayal that successfully balances the cringe-worthy utterances of a 20th century patriarch with the realities of today. Lazarov isn’t a Tevye with a bottomless voice, but he’s got sufficient pipes to get the job done and he carries the show well.

Fiddler on the Roof is, ultimately, a rather sad story that lacks what anyone could consider a happy ending. What’s interesting about it is how well illustrated Tevye’s many decisions are. Through his lines, the songs, his entreaties to god and the actions of those around him, we see the inner turmoil of someone at a crossroads who, most of the times, arrives at the correct decision.

We love Tevye because he embodies much of what all parents face in raising children or what anyone goes through just living life. And even if we’re not being evicted from our village by the asshole tsar, we can still relate to the challenge of having to move a piece of real estate in just three days and the hassle of getting a flat on the minivan (or, in Tevye’s case, a thrown horseshoe).

It’d been many years since I’d last seen Fiddler, but it remains one of the greats and it’s a nice place to revisit. For those new to the show, go to see one of the classics — and see what it takes to create a show that can go for 55 years without any signs of being forgotten.

Fiddler on the Roof daughters

Three of Tevye’s daughters