Musicals from the 1960s tend not to feel fresh or charged with geopolitical relevance unless they've been substantially reinterpreted. But in a highly faithful revival helmed by Tony-winning director Bartlett Sher, Fiddler on the Roof opened with a powerful gut-punch Wednesday night at the Golden Gate Theater.

If you take away anything from Fiddler on the Roof, the most obvious thing would be that the Russians have been up to no good with their neighbors and minority populations for a very long time. Residents of the Baltic states were brutalized and occupied by Russian soldiers throughout their recent history, until they became sovereign states. And in the Tsarist Russia of the early 20th Century, circa 1905 when this musical takes place, Jewish communities were subjected to evictions from villages where they'd lived for generations, and worse, pogroms.

That racist, genocidal history is partly responsible for the wave of pre-World War II immigration of Jews to the United States from Eastern Europe and Russia. And it's from there that Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem wrote the short stories that form the source material for Fiddler on the Roof — with a smart, still witty book by Joseph Stein, and music and lyrics by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick.

The simple, family story of the milkman Tevye, his wife Golde, their five daughters, and the little village of Anatevka — a fictional place likely found in modern-day Ukraine, not far from the cosmopolitan city of Kyiv — draws together many classic tropes of musical theater, while also resonating on multiple levels. There's the small conflicts between parents and children, conflicts between neighbors, a tension between tradition and modernity, and an over-arching, brewing conflict between the village itself and the Russian government, which is systematically trying to stamp out dissident activity by targeting Jews in particular.

Tevye (played marvelously in this production by Jonathan Hashmonay) opens the show, with the villagers behind him, singing merrily about "Tradition," and the traditonal roles of papas, mamas, sons, and daughters. Quickly we learn that his eldest daughter Tzeitel (Leah Platt) wants to marry her childhood sweetheart, the tailor's son Motel — and she wants to avoid the arranged marriage that tradition would typically dictate. Tevye is a softy for his daughter, as it turns out, giving in easily to her plea for love — and this conflict, along with Tzeitel's wedding, frames much of Act One.

The wedding scene, with its gorgeously choreographed dances by Hofesh Schechter — borrowing heavily from the original choreography by Jerome Robbins — is an uplifting and powerful centerpiece to the show. But, it is short-lived, as the wedding gets interrupted by some petty intimidation from Russian police.

Sher's direction throughout feels fresh while simultaneously celebratory of old Broadway — the pace is brisk, the humor broad without being hammy, and an Act One dream sequence is frightfully, gloriously over the top.

There is hardly a weak voice in the cast, with Austin J. Gresham giving terrific sweetness to the rebellious Perchik, and Graceann Kontak proving her chops as Tevye's second-eldest Hodel — who gets one of the show's most delicately powerful solos, "Far From the Home I Love." And the ensemble is full of some impressive dancers, in particular Ari Arian Molaei, who doubles as the Fiddler.

The set design by Michael Yearan is both lavish and restrained — leaving nothing but a gray scrim at the back of the stage to frame some of the show's most potent dance moments, as well as the somber finale.

When the New York Times reviewed this production, after its 2015 Broadway premiere, critic Charles Isherwood noted, "It’s impossible to watch the people of Tevye’s town, Anatevka, marching toward their unknown destinies in the shadow of a threatened pogrom without thinking of the thousands of families fleeing violence in the Middle East and elsewhere today."

Almost eight years on, as this production has finally made it onto the road, we are one year into a brutal war in Ukraine in which underdog villagers and city-dwellers alike are trying to stave off Vladimir Putin's aggression. Grandmothers, grandfathers, and many mothers and children have been forced from their homes again in this war, and have dispersed across Europe and America while their country is besieged. Thus it was fitting that that Hashmonay, breaking out of character in the curtain call, read a statement after Wednesday's performance saying that this show is "becoming more relevant by the day," and that this and every performance of Fiddler on the Roof is dedicated to the people of Ukraine.

More than one cheer from the audience came in Ukrainian and Russian, because, or course, the diaspora is here in San Francisco too.

'Fiddler on the Roof' plays only through Sunday, March 26, at the Golden Gate Theater. Find tickets here.

Top image: Jonathan Hashmonay (Tevye) and Andrew Hendrick (Lazar Wolf) in the North American Tour of 'Fiddler on the Roof.' Photo by Joan Marcus