Fiddler on the Roof

Joseph Stein (based the Sholem Aleichem stories); music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick.
New Victoria Theatre, Woking and Touring

Production photo

It has been the fashion to look down on musicals as ‘theatrical gossamer’ – light, frivolous, to be enjoyed for an evening and then instantly forgotten. Then along came Les Miserables which is full of the gritty and bloody realism of revolution in nineteenth century France, and which seems to have taken up permanent residence in the West End.

Fiddler on the Roof has the same realism, and the historical accuracy of the plight of early twentieth century Russian Jews can be verified by writer Aleichem who experienced the vicious ‘pograms’ first-hand and in 1905 was forced into emigration himself. Downtrodden, poor, victimised and finally driven out of their homeland to survive as best they could elsewhere – anywhere – the story not only has the ring of authenticity but also has universal appeal. Who cannot relate to a tale of family life and old traditions being lost in a changing world? Children grow up, marry, and leave home and Tevye’s song Sunrise, Sunset, looking back over the years and wondering where they went is something all parents can recognise. This song usually starts the tears flowing, but somehow this time failed to move me, despite being beautifully sung. Perhaps sensitivity was blunted by a lavish celebration champagne lunch, or maybe it was Julian Woolford’s direction which had the characters seeming to direct their attention more to the audience than relating to each other.

Blessed with Bock’s superb musical score, and relevant lyrics by fellow Jew Harnick, it will be forever associated (in British minds anyway) with Israeli Topol, who performed the role of Tevye twice on the London Stage as well as in the 1971 film version (and who will be appearing in Gigi at Regent's Park next month).

Here Joe McGann is a thoughtful and philosophical Tevye, the milkman who introspectively voices his thoughts on life, frequently gazing somewhere beyond the top balcony as he converses with God and, although non-Jewish, missing none of the Jewish humour inherent in the script. “It’s no sin to be poor, but would it spoil some vast eternal plan if I were a wealthy man?”

Tevye has lived by a tradition which states that a father’s word is law and that a matchmaker will find suitable husbands for his five daughters, but the daughters fall in love and love changes everything.

The eldest, Tzeitel (beautifully performed and sung by Jessica Punch) falls for timid tailor Motel, but he turns out to be a wise choice proving hard working and ambitious – even managing to buy a sewing machine. Their wedding is a joyous affair with some exceptional and impressive Cossack dancing – except, that is for the disgruntled butcher Lazar Wolf (Martin Callaghan) who, feeling that he has been cheated of a bride, almost starts a fight.

The most moving scenes appear in Act Two, first with Tevye and wife Golde (a gloriously voiced Carrie Ellis) noticing each other at last with the song Do you Love Me? and again most particularly with daughter Hodel (Katie Lovell) who is following her heart to join the revolutionary student Perchik (Neil Ditt)as in the frozen wastes of Siberia. Far from the Home I Love has never sounded more beautiful, or more sad this time I cried!

There is sadness, there is humour, there is brutality and injustice, but the show ends on a note of hope – a start again in a new land as they set of for America as did so many at that time, and the songs will live forever.

Touring to Bradford, Llandudno, Eastbourne, Glasgow, Killarney, Southend-on-Sea, Cheltenham, Cardiff, Wolverhampton, Castlebar and Colchester.

Katharine Capocci reviewed this production in Sunderland

Reviewer: Sheila Connor

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