29 January 2005

I've noted before that there's a kind of negative review that makes me want to see a movie more desperately than a good review ever could, assuming that it promises the sort of intensely problematic, uncanny, or jaw-droppingly queer experience that "good" movies so rarely provide. Beyond the Sea is, of course, the most obvious example. For the first time, however, conflicted reviews are tempting me to buy an expensive ticket to a big Broadway musical, namely, the revival of Fiddler on the Roof with Harvey Fierstein.

It's not that Fierstein has received bad reviews. Quite the contrary: most critics seem to agree that he's great, and far superior to the production itself. But it seems that the casting of Fierstein as Tevye has set up the sort of unpredictable harmonic vibrations that occur on Broadway maybe once a decade, the sort that threaten to shake musical theater to its foundations and rebuild it as something weirder, campier, and more wonderful. It sounds like a casting choice straight out of a throwaway parody from The Simpsons, but for some reason, I can't stop thinking about it.

Here's why. Judging from the reviews, Fierstein, the ultimate self-conscious gay artist, is incapable of playing an Everyman, much less Tevye the Milkman. Audiences are apparently dislocated the second Tevye opens his mouth and comes out with that beautiful, froggy, gravel-pit voice, with, as the Voice puts it, "mild hints of a gay sensibility in his whirlwind hand gestures, or his occasional Edith Evans line readings." Wha-a-a? Imagine Fierstein dragging a milk cart across the stage, or wrapping that voice around "Daidle deedle daidle daidle daidle deedle daidle dum," and you've got a sense of how weird this production has to be.

And yet, I'm helplessly drawn to it. Tevye has never had it easy in life, but give him self-awareness along with his other problems and suddenly you've got something that seems ready to change the way we think about musicals. Mezzanine tickets start at $40.00. Any takers?

No comments: