The Top 10 Broadway Musical Replacements

By Ben Rimalower
31 Aug 2013


Harvey Fierstein
Photo by Joan Marcus

Harvey Fierstein as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof

Harvey Fierstein is an icon and a legend and, with numerous illustrious credits both onstage and off, he is a true man of the theatre. A singer he is not and even in his inspired, triumphant performance as Edna Turnblad in Hairspray (a role conceived and tailored for him) his vocal limitations were glaring. Maybe his voice reminds me too much of my own gravelly rasp, but I know I'm not alone in finding his singing grating. Perhaps it's needless to say, but I was concerned about the prospects of his Tevye when he was announced to succeed Alfred Molina in David Leveaux's 2004 revival of Fiddler on the Roof. I needn't have worried. Fierstein's Tevye was a grand victory of character and style over pretty singing. Just as in Hairspray, Fierstein's larger-than-life stage presence filled the theatre and the bigger size of the part of Tevye (compared to Edna in Hairspray) meant more songs and more time to adjust and settle into Fierstein's almost absurdly bereft vocals. I even began to think Fierstein exhibits a unique musicality, along the lines of similarly limited, yet effective singers like cabaret legend Julie Wilson, or even Bob Dylan. Like Wilson and Dylan, Fierstein's no-frills singing creates an intimacy, which really drives home the intention and feeling behind the lyrics.  Continued...