Harvey Fierstein’s name is above the title in the program for “Fiddler on the Roof” for good reason.
The longtime Broadway performer (”Torch Song Trilogy,” “La Cage Aux Follles,” “Hairspray”) brings a, dare we say, gay interpretation to the iconic role of Tevye the dairy man in the hit musical, now onstage in a touring production at the Golden Gate Theatre in The City.
The term “gay” is meant in both the contemporary and old-fashioned definition of the word.
While not less of a man than his predecessors Zero Mostel, Theodore Bikel and Topol, Fierstein (who has played this role in a hit Broadway revvival), has more than a trademark raspy voice. His joi de vivre, goofiness and appealing swishiness are all his own, and it all works.
So does everything else about this four-star production of the show by Joseph Stein (book), Jerry Bock (music) and Sheldon Harnick (lyrics) telling the story of changing traditions in a village of Russian Jews at the turn of the 20th century.
Some 45 years after its debut, “Fiddler” remains the perfect entertainment: it’s funny, heartbreaking, thought-provoking and packed with joyous dances as well as tunes audiences hum on their way out of the theater: “Tradition,” “To Life,” “If I Were a Rich Man,” “Sunrise, Sunset.”
This touring production, directed and choreographed by Sammy Dallas Bayes based on the original by Harold Prince and Jerome Robbins, really emphasizes the comedy – mostly with Feirstein’s skillful touches – particularly in the long first act.
But at the same time, it doesn’t undermine the poignant and sad moments: when Tevye queries his wife Golde in “Do You Love Me?”; when daughter Hodel leaves to be with her revolutionary fiance in “Far From the Home I Love”; and when daughter Chava is outcast due to her love for a non-Jew. Those are what make “Fiddler” so enduring and relevant into the 21st century.
While Fierstein’s adorable presence dominates, his co-stars hold their own: Susan Cella as Golde, Rena Strober as oldest daughter Tzeitel, and Jamie Davis and Deborah Grausman as Hodel and Chava. They sound great in “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” while tossing their brooms with finesse.
Equally spirited are Mary Stout as Yente the matchmaker, Erik Liberman as Motel the modest tailor and Colby Foytik as Perchik the student.
Under the baton of David Andrews Rogers, the orchestra nicely does its job of keeping up the tradition of one of America’s most thrilling musicals.
Fiddler on the Roof
Presented by Best of Broadway
Where: Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Wednesdays, Saturdays-Sundays; closes Feb. 21
Tickets: $30 to $99
Contact: (415) 512-7770, www.ticketmaster.com