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Topol timeless as Tevye

By Jay Furst

furst@postbulletin.com

May the sun never set on Chaim Topol and "Fiddler on the Roof."

The Israeli-born actor has plenty of other stage and screen credits, including work in nearly 30 films, but it’s his 2,500 performances as Tevye in the Tony Award-winning musical that make him a Broadway legend. Now on what’s billed as a farewell tour, he remains the mensch and master of this bittersweet classic set in Tsarist Russia, about the passing of an era and the indestructibility of Jewish culture.

Sure, he’s about 40 years slower than he was in the film, and the show has its longeurs after intermission, but when Topol shakes and shimmies into "If I Were a Rich Man," there’s no doubt that he’s still got what it takes. If anything, his age works in his favor as he portrays the world-weariness of the peasant milkman whose family burdens, deep questioning of God and failing traditions leave him bent but not quite broken.

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The nationally touring production opened Tuesday night at the Orpheum in downtown Minneapolis and continues through Sunday.

"Fiddler on the Roof" is one of the more wildly improbable concepts ever for a Broadway hit, but it’s easy to see why it endures: They don’t write songs like "Sunrise, Sunset" and "Matchmaker, Matchmaker" anymore, and from the beginning, with Zero Mostel and then Topol, it’s had extravagantly gifted characters leading the way.

It didn’t hurt that Jerome Robbins directed the Broadway premiere, Harold Prince produced it and Marc Chagall inspired the scenery and fiddler’s magic.

The cast in Minneapolis is generally excellent, though Susan Cella as Tevye’s wife Golde is badly overmatched. The three older daughters, played by Rena Strober, Alison Walla and Jamie Davis, are all charming in their own ways, and Bill Nolte is just right as the burly jilted suitor Lazar Wolf. Mary Stout is perfectly cast at the chatty matchmaker Yente.

The production, directed and choreographed by Sammy Dallas Bayes, is first-rate, with imaginative, Chekhovian scenery by Steve Gilliam, and the musicians led by David Andrews Rogers play with all the gusto of a Brighton Beach klezmer band.

Bayes could probably cut the three-hour running time by about 30 minutes if he had the chutzpah to ask Topol to pick up the pace, but why bother? Let the master do his work. As the good book says, "Work hard and become a leader; be lazy and never succeed."

If you go

What: "Fiddler on the Roof," through Sunday

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Where: Orpheum Theater, downtown Minneapolis

Tickets: $26-$86

Information: 1-800-982-2787

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