BWW Review: FIDDLER ON THE ROOF at Harbiye Open Air Theatre
Known for 'staging the world', Zorlu, presented us its first Broadway musical in Turkish back in the beginning of the year. A co-production between Zorlu and Talimhane, Fiddler on the Roof (Damdaki Kemanci) had a one night only performance on August 7 at the Harbiye Open Air Theatre.
The score by Jerry Bock (music), Sheldon Harnick (lyrics) and the book by Joseph Stein, Fiddler on the Roof is one of the longest running musicals on Broadway. It tells the story of a poor Jewish milkman called Tevye and his family. He is a man that values traditions like the rest of the villagers of Anatevka but as the story proceeds he has to 'bend' some of them for the sake of his daughters' happiness. And during the family drama Tsar starts evicting the Jews from their villages.
Mehmet Ergen has both translated and directed the production which proves how much he wanted to stage this particular musical. His desire is not shocking. Fiddler is one of those musicals that is relatable anytime, anywhere. Joseph Stein wrote an article for Guardian in 2007 and there is a part where he recalls his talk with the Japanese producer of the first non-English production of the musical in Japan. "I got there just during the rehearsal period and the Japanese producer asked me, 'Do they understand this show in America?' And I said, 'Yes, of course, we wrote it for America. Why do you ask?' And he said, 'Because it's so Japanese.'." I think this bit of the article explains the universality and timelessness of the piece quite well. Fiddler is about the human desire to hang on to things such as religious and cultural traditions. Because thanks to traditions, the fiddler can keep his balance.
Yes, Fiddler is a timeless musical. People can always find something of themselves in it. But the people of these particular times find even more. In Middle East thousands of people have to leave their homes to stay alive. People are forced to do things they don't want to do. And, we, at the center of everything, know that.
A beautiful story, and a beautiful cast. This is a heartwarming group however the main problem with the production comes to surface as they start to sing: the translation. As a translator myself, I can understand the desire to translate every sentence as it is in the source text. However, that is an impossible task to accomplish: especially in translating songs. Word by word translation is unacceptable as songs are... songs. They have a certain rhythm and they have to be enjoyable. And if 'If I Were a Rich Man' sounds like the lead actor is spelling out the lyrics, I can't say that is an enjoyable song to listen.
The cast is led by Mehmet Ali Kaptanlar. His energy is uplifting. He is a delight to watch. Binnur Kaya plays his wife Golde, who is the real boss in the house. However that quality is sometimes suppressed by the purity the actress presents. And the real star of the show? It's Ceren Gundogdu who plays Hodel. She sings her way to the center of the production and steals every scene she is in with her amazing vocal range. She is the real musical theatre material here.
The lightning design is a stellar. Richard Williamson has done a great job with the perspective. He has given the space a great depth with the way he chose to place the spots.
Our Fiddler on the Roof captures the time with the time it's chosen to be staged. We are going through difficult times. The world is shaking with violence. The prescription is: Smile more, love more, and... see musicals. I hope to see more and more musicals on our stages in our language. I guess I need Zorlu to say Fiddler was only the start.