A gentle tale full of riches

A night on the tiles: Jennifer Douglas as The Fiddler

Fiddler on the roof

The Grand Theatre Wolverhampton

*****

SO, there is this elderly Jewish milkman in 1905 Russian peasant society, poor as a synagogue mouse, keeping the faith and tradition – except his daughters don’t want arranged marriages which creates a bit of a dilemma.

Oh, and the Tsar has ordered that all Jews are expelled from every village so the community and old life is being turned upside down.

Not exactly a promising subject for a hit musical yet it not only works but works gloriously in a very human, down to earth musical starring Paul Michael Glaser of Detective David Starsky fame.

He gives a towering performance as Tevye, the penniless milkman with five daughters to marry off and traditions to maintain. Glaser, who played the revolutionary student Perchik in the 1971 film, incidentally, produces a wonderful collection of looks, gestures and glances as well as a fine line in Jewish humour as he leads us through the trials and tribulations of family life in the small Ukrainian village of Anatevka in 1905.

He talks to everyone, to the villagers, the constable, to the audience and regular chats with God.

He is the head of his family, the patriarch, that is when Golde (Karen Mann) his sharp-tongued wife of 25 years, lets him of course, and he rules his five daughters with a rod of . . . well, not exactly iron.

The busybody, nosey-parker of a matchmaker Yente (Liz Kitchen – who also shows us a fine voice doubling up as Grandma  Tzeitel) has fixed up eldest daughter Tzeitel (Emily O’Keefe) with the widowed butcher, Lazar (Paul Kissaun). He is about the same age as Tevye – but has one good selling point in the village matrimony stakes - he is rich.

Paul Michael Glaser as milkman Tevye, Emily O'Keefe as Tzeitel, Liz Singleton as Hodel, Claire Petzal as Chava

Tradition, and an agreement, has it they will wed except Tzeitel pleads with her father to allow her to marry Motel (Jon Trenchard) the penniless tailor. Each of his three eldest daughters in turn stray further from tradition, marrying for love rather than arranged unions,  with No 2, Hodel (Liz Singleton) falling for revolutionary student Perchik (Steven Bor), and heading off to Siberia when he is imprisoned there.

At least Perchik was Jewish though, Chava (Claire Petzal) journeys into the real unknown falling for a Russian, Fyedka (Daniel Bolton) - marrying outside the faith.

The musical, based on Tevye and his Daughters and other tales by Yiddish author Sholem Aleichem, explores the life of poor and persecuted Jews through the eyes of Tevye It is a life as precarious as a fiddler on a roof, the fiddler being a metaphor in Eastern Jewish life for survival through tradition.

Not a lot of laughs there, you might think, but this is a charming tale is brim full of the warmth and humour found in everyday life and relationships, things we can all relate to – and, let’s be honest, at three hours it has to be good or the shuffling of bums in seats would become deafening.

It opens and closes with the fiddler, Jennifer Douglas, in a costume that s resembled a rather elegant Pied Piper.

Tevye saying goodbye to daughter Hodel, played by Liz Singleton. When they will meet again is in God's hands

 She is present at every event, watching over the change in not just the world of Tevye but the world outside and she plays beautifully perched on the roof to open and then on balconies, shelves and perched on the edge of the stage before being called to follow Tevye into his new life.

Musicians on stage was something that director and choreographer Craig Revel Horwood used to good effect in his recent revival of Chess and it works well again here with the cast not only having to play the parts of the villagers but also double up as a full orchestra and it is to their credit that it would be hard to fault the music.

The daughters gave us a fine Matchmaker while Glaser does not disappoint with the show’s big number If I were a rich man adding a nice duet with Golde, his arranged bride of a quarter century ago with Do You Love Me. There is also an excellent duet from Perchik and Hodel with Now I Have Everything and Hodel also gives us a sad Far from the Home I Love.

Australian born Revel Horwood is perhaps best known as a Strictly Come Dancing judge but this is his real job and he is very good at it.

Everything about this show, with music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, and book by Joseph Stein, sparkles from the setting and costumes from Diego Pitarch, the clever lighting from Richard G Jones to the direction and choreography of Craig Revel Horwood.

The original Broadway show of 1964, the last original Broadway staging by legendary choreographer Jerome Robbins, had Zero Mostel as Tevye, By the time it came to London in 1967 it had Israeli star Topol in the key role – a role he was still playing in 2009 – while Theodore Bikel has played the role more than any other actor.

So Glaser, now 70, joins a distinguished band and a standing ovation for him and the fine cast at the end, not the most common occurrence at the Grand incidentally, eloquently declares he, and they, did not look out of place.

A fine production and a marvellous evening’s entertainment. To 19-10-13

Roger Clarke

And from the next rooftop . . . .

***** 

FORMER TV cop Paul Michael Glaser is capturing the hearts of Black Country theatre-goers with his stunning portrayal of the charismatic Jewish milkman,Tevye, in this superb musical.

His switch from a high-powered police car in Starsky & Hutch to pulling a wooden cart in the poor Russian village of Anatevka is a real challenge, but the standing ovations received for the star and the cast underlines his success.

Glaser fits neatly into the role of bearded Tevye whose determination to uphold the traditions of his faith are tested to breaking point when his three eldest daughters decide they want to marry for love rather than accept the choices offered by Yente the Matchmaker (Liz Kitchen).

This production of Fiddler, directed and choreographed by Strictly Come Dancing judge Craig Revel Horwood, is easily the best I have seen and with 15 members of the cast playing musical instruments while acting on stage, it is also the most unusual.

The excellent set enables the musician/actors to play in various alcoves while still in view of the audience, and Jennifer Douglas, the fiddler on the roof - indicating the precarious lives of the villagers in Tsarist Russia - also plays her violin beautifully from a balcony, perched above a bed and at stage level.

Outstanding performances, too, from Karen Mann (Tevye's wife, Golda), and Emily O'Keefe, Liz Singleton and Claire Petzal (daughters Tzeitel, Hodel and Chava).

Fiddler on the Roof plays on till Saturday night 19.10.13 

Paul Marston

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