FIDDLER ON THE ROOF
Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 15th October, 2013
Craig Revel Horwood directs this new touring production of the classic musical and shows us exactly why it is a classic musical. His production has a twist – the cast play instruments on stage, a trick that was all the rage a few years back (I remember a particularly fine Mack and Mabel) but here it fits in with the action almost seamlessly: the violins, guitars, flutes and clarinets are the more portable instruments but after a while you don’t notice that one of Tevye’s daughters is lugging a cello around with her. The cast prove themselves as quadruple threats: they act, sing, dance AND play instruments. Everyone else in musical theatre better up their game.
The first half –as long as a feature film but doesn’t seem it- establishes Tevye, his family and the community of Russian Jews, and is rich with warmth and humour – most of which stems from the wise-cracking Tevye (Paul Michael Glaser – yes, that’s right: STARSKY himself!). Well-known songs keep on coming: Tradition, Matchmaker, If I Were A Rich Man – the richness of Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick’s score offsets the poverty of the characters. Sunrise, Sunset is absolutely beautiful. Gradually, cracks appear in Tevye’s world and his adherence to tradition is challenged, stretched and contorted, as each of his eldest daughters pairs off with young men not of his choosing. Also, pressure from the outside world increases and while the disruption of a wedding at the end of the first act is little more than the overturning of a couple of stools and tables by a mob of two, the threat is established.
The second act is more about the deconstruction of Tevye’s way of life, at home and at large, as his daughters fly the nest and the community disbands. Still, the sense of humour prevails with some of the funniest lines coming at moments of suffering.
As Tevye, Paul Michael Glaser is magnificent, wholly inhabiting the role and making it his own. Karen Mann as wife Golde is very strong and touching in a character part and I particularly liked Claire Petzal as daughter Chava, Liz Kitchen as the matchmaker and Jon Trenchard as Motel. I could go on and list the entire company but really you should go out and catch the show yourself.
As you’d expect from Revel Horwood, the choreography is something to behold, using peasant dances and Cossack moves. There is a dream sequence that is a lot of fun, a moment of high camp in the otherwise dreary setting – Diego Pitarch’s set centres around the homestead which rotates and opens out like a ramshackle doll’s house. The costumes remind us of the period, although the theme of people being dispossessed of their homelands and forced to become refugees remains all too current. Perchik’s revolutionary teachings also have relevance in Broken Britain: “In this world it is the rich who are the criminals”, and even Tevye observes “our old ways were once new” – a message for conservatives everywhere who are resistant to change.
There are the odd moments when everyone dons a false beard to join in with the dancing and Paul Kissaun’s otherwise excellent Lazar looks a bit too much like Hagrid, but on the whole this is a fine-looking, great-sounding production of a show that remains as funny, touching, enjoyable and moving as it ever was, plucking at your heartstrings.
The fiddler on the roof is a metaphor for all of us: life is precarious but we try to scratch out our own tune.