Crosscut Tout: Two extraordinary singers

Mohammed-Reza Shajarian, greatest living master of Persian classical song, is at Kane Hall, while Harvey Fierstein is the lead in the Paramount's "Fiddler on the Roof."
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Harvey Fierstein in 'Fiddler'

Mohammed-Reza Shajarian, greatest living master of Persian classical song, is at Kane Hall, while Harvey Fierstein is the lead in the Paramount's "Fiddler on the Roof."

Two extraordinary vocalists come to Seattle at the end of May, an accidental odd couple if ever there was, and audiences should be sure to see both. Appearing at UW'ꀙs Kane Hall on the 27th is the great Iranian singer, and now political icon Mohammed-Reza Shajarian with the 14-member Shahnaz Ensemble. The other is the sandpaper-voiced Harvey Fierstein, taking the lead as Tevye in the touring production of Fiddler on the Roof at The Paramount in a six-day run commencing the 25th. What could these two possibly have in common? What else 'ꀓ TRADITION!

Shajarian, now 70 years old, is acknowledged as the greatest living master of Persian classical song. His beautiful and plaintive voice interprets Persian poetry with a soulfulness that is extraordinary. Accompanying him, the Shahnaz Ensemble features some of the finest Persian classical musicians now at work, and it is a rarity to see such a large group on tour here in the US. Persian classical music and song is an ancient tradition and embraces a full range of emotions from deeply spiritual to electrifyingly robust. It is something any music lover should hear live at least once, and in Shajarian and his fellow musicians audiences will hear no better exponents.

Were he just known for his music, Shajarian would be a master. But at this time in Iran'ꀙs history, he is something more. In any number of ways, he has bravely made his feelings known about the current political climate in his country. In an act of courage that perhaps only one of his stature could carry off, he forbade government radio to play his music after the recent violence and repression, and through his art and public statements identifies himself with those in opposition to the current regime. The traditional poetry he sings has always had deep resonance with Iranians, but takes on special meaning now with its themes of individual expression, suffering, and compassion. An Iranian audience, whether in Tehran or Seattle understands the messages implied in his choice of music.

Shajarian'ꀙs appearance at Kane Hall is being produced by the plucky local outfit Seattle World Music Institute which brings many outstanding Iranian artists to our area, and has organized not only Shajarian'ꀙs appearance here, but also his entire US tour.

Another form of tradition will be displayed at The Paramount — Broadway history and ethnic sentimentality — when Harvey Fierstein settles in for a brief run of Fiddler on the Roof as Tevye, the milkman from the little Russian shtetl of Anatevka. Originally opening in 1964, Fiddler has become one of the most-performed and venerated shows in the Broadway musical canon, and in pre-Cats days it ran for an astonishing 3,000 performances.

Some might find it difficult to envision the campy Fierstein in the iconic role of Tevya made famous in the original run by the late great Zero Mostel, and in the film and numerous touring productions by the Israeli actor/singer Topol, who was originally scheduled for this tour billed as his farewell to Fiddler, but bowing out late last year after a shoulder injury. However, all three share common traits — physical heft and an over the top performance style that can make Tevye both a lively caricature and deeply compelling, the center around which the whole production turns.

It doesn'ꀙt hurt that the show has a wonderful story by Joseph Stein after the Yiddish writings of Sholem Aleichem, a memorable score by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, and some fabulous production numbers, particularly the famed bottle dance, all restaged by director Sammy Bayes from the originals of Jerome Robbins who directed, choreographed, and staged the original Broadway production.

A true man of the theater, Fierstein first appeared as Tevye (replacing Alfred Molina) in the less than memorable 2005 Broadway revival of the show, and has been performing in this touring production since the beginning of the year winning mostly praise, pleasing audiences, but also getting a few 'ꀜoys'ꀝ along the way. In Seattle, he is sure to bring a distinctive approach to the role, with his trademark rasp of a voice that may take viewers a scene or two (or a lifetime) to get past, as well as his very physical and hyper-active presence. I don'ꀙt know what Fierstein will make of Tevye, but his performance interpretation will surely be original, and most assuredly won'ꀙt be boring.

Mohammed-Reza Shajarian and the Shahnaz Ensemble appear at UW'ꀙs Kane Hall on Thursday, May 27 at 8 pm. Tickets are $25-$50 and are available through, and at area Persian groceries. For information: 347-722-9936.

Tickets for Fiddler on the Roof, which runs Tuesday through Sunday, May 25-30 range from $27 - $75 and are available at,, or Tickets are also available by calling 877-STG-4TIX (4849) or in person at The Paramount Theatre Box Office (Monday through Friday, 10am to 6pm).


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