Tuesday, 13 June 2006

Fiddler on the Roof, June 13, 2006

Fiddler on the Roof
Music by Jerry Bock, Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, Book by Joseph Stein

Her Majesty's Theatre, Melbourne
June 13 until July 9, 2006

Reviewer: Kate Herbert on June 13, 2006

Chaim Topol is the uncontested star of Fiddler on the Roof. 

Nearly 40 years since the then unknown Israeli actor burst onto the London stage as Tevye, the lovable Russian-Jewish milkman, Topol’s professionalism and relish for the role are undiminished.

Topol is that rare creature: an actor with palpable charisma. His eyes glitter, his gaze touches all, his timing and delivery are impeccable and he delicately balances pathos with humour.

Fiddler is also a rare thing. It won nine Tony Awards and was one of the 1960s musicals that dealt with serious issues. Joseph Stein based his superbly constructed narrative on stories by the Yiddish writer, Sholom Aleichem.

Although its depicts oppression and ethnic cleansing of Jews in Tsarist Russia, the story of Tevye, his family and the peasants of Anatevka is one of love, pride, dignity and their Jewish tradition.

The men wear prayer shawls and hats, the Matchmaker (Maggie Kirkpatrick) provides suitors, the father provides a dowry, daughters do not marry for love or without father’s permission and they certainly do not marry outside the Jewish faith.

In the changing world of revolution, poor Tevye’s precious traditions are as precarious as a fiddler playing on a roof. Tevye suffers the humiliation of three daughters marrying inappropriately. His village bears the degradation of a pogrom and its people are spread to all corners of the world in the Jewish Diaspora.

Tevye seeks solace, counsel and conversation from his God as he confronts his despair, decisions and familial conflict.

The marvellous music (Jerry Bock) and lyrics (Sheldon Harnick) are etched into our unconscious. Tradition is a rousing chorus from Topol and the entire cast. Tevye’s, If I Were a Rich Man, is a cheeringly hopeful tune and Sunrise Sunset is a poignant ballad.

Topol is the jewel in this revival of Fiddler but, with a few exceptions, there is little sparkle in the supporting cast. The chorus scenes, (Wedding Dance, Tradition, Anatevka) are rousing but some actors are disappointingly disconnected from the accent, character or feeling of the Russian Jews they portray.

Judith Roberts as Tevye’s wife, Golde, is energetic but needs that rampant bossiness Tevye fears. Maggie Kirkpatrick as Yente lacks authenticity as Yente, the matchmaker. Barry Crocker captures the comic in Lazar, the butcher and Bart John is powerful as the Russian Constable.

Laura Fitzpatrick, as Tevye’s daughter, Hodel, and David Harris as Perchik, her rebellious student fiancĂ© give the most authentic and credible performances.

This is a worthy production and the songs just keep on delighting.

By Kate Herbert

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