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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
FIDDLER ON THE ROOF
at the Savoy

DANGLING CONVERSATION
By John Nathan

  Rosie O'Donnell and Harvey Fierstein/PH: Sara Krulwich

Fiddler on the Roof may be a show about tradition, but that has not stopped director Lindsay Posner from breaking with it.

This production of Jerry Bock (music) and Sheldon Harnick's (lyrics) classic started out in December at the city of Sheffield's Crucible Theatre - and as the most Jewish Christmas show in Christendom.

Posner's objective was to reign in the show's sentimentalism and inject a dose of realism into a musical whose shtick is to traditionally go heavy on the schmaltz.

Peter Mackintosh's design of Anatevka the Jewish village - or shtetl - in Tsarist Russia is a ramshackle edifice of weathered timber and dark shadows, as insecure as the lives of the Jews who live there. Or as Henry Goodman's Tevye would put it, as precarious as a fiddler on a roof.

Tevye is the shtetl's milkman; a religious Jew with an endless line in biblical aphorisms. He would rather be a tyrant if only he wasn't so damned good-hearted. And he may have five daughters and a domineering wife - played by an excellent Beverly Klein with hands-on-hips truculence - but his defining relationship is with God. And it is here that Goodman finds the essence of Tevye.

Joseph Stein's brilliant book (based on the Sholom Aleichem stories) finds its plot in the survival of family and tradition threatened by pogroms and new ideas that undermine Tevye's already shaky patriarchal authority.

So as each of his three eldest daughters announce their intended wedding to an unsuitable suitor, Goodman's Tevye launches volleys of exasperated glances, resigned shrugs and waves of the hand to a God that is both his confidant and tormentor.

Goodman is superb. But if he could reign in his showman's instinct to have his milkman milk every gag with a double take, and if he resisted illustrating every other lyric of If I Were A Rich Man with sign-language gesticulation, Goodman would be brilliant. As it is, he takes a role created by Zero Mostel and immortalized by Topol in the film version, and makes it all his own.

There are times though when this Fiddler feels like a big show with smallness imposed upon it; when the ten piece band feels underpowered; when Jerome Robbin's choreography - climaxing with Chasidic dancers in the wedding scene - appears cramped.

So the evening's ecstasy is found not in the big routines but in tender, dramatic moments - the duet Do You Love Me?, sung by Tevye and Klein's Golde; the moment when Tevye's eldest daughter Hodel (played by the sweet-voiced Alexandra Sibler) leaves her father ; when the hope with which the daughters sing Matchmaker turns into fear about who they will be matched with. The shtetl may be poor, but the evening is rich.

 


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