BWW Review: FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, Playhouse Theatre
Fiddler On the Roof brings the Menier Chocolate Factory to the Playhouse Theatre. As the audience enters, the walls are bedecked with hangings as drab as most of the costumes - the wardrobe is black, save for prayer shawls and wedding garb.
Birdsong plays a little too sweetly, and Robert Jones's superb set crowds the stage with houses, protruding through the auditorium and seeming to defy the theatre's proscenium set-up. The trees look less than friendly, while the rustic lanterns give an impression of twee invitation: something hums beneath the village idyll.
This is a superb production of Stein, Bock and Harnick's tale of faith and tradition, questioning and change, first seen at the Menier last December. Tevye works and lives in a small Russian village at the turn of the 20th century. He demonstrates great conviction in his faith, tells God of his wishes and "blessings" (five daughters and a perpetually lame horse), and he monologues about tradition.
Despite this faith in how things have always been done, and an ultimately moving stoicism that all is, somehow, being worked for the best, history is not on our protagonist's side. In a haunting progression of glowing love stories, heart-rending familial divisions and xenophobic thuggery, the residents of small-town Anatevka do their best to maintain stability amidst a period of great change.
This production is everything you might expect from a successful transfer of a famous musical, but crucially Trevor Nunn's version avoids strident overacting and instead cuts through to the sense of these people and their values. Most of "If I Were a Rich Man" potters out on a much smaller scale than Topol's iconic rendition; it makes sense, sighing forth from Andy Nyman's labour-exhausted form.
Nyman is endearing and believable as a thoughtful Tevye, who perhaps spends a little too much time alone as he wheels his milk cart, and who adores his daughters. Judy Kuhn also shines under Nunn's intelligent, insightful direction. Her Golde is forceful, yet sympathetic throughout; she and Nyman perform "Do You Love Me?" with great sensitivity.
The company's singing is beautiful; the choral numbers help to convey quite what bliss is being disturbed, even as some lines jar horribly and insist upon the progress so desired by Tevye and Golde's daughters.
Matt Cole's work on Jerome Robbins's original choreography milks the famous bits gloriously - the bottle dance grows steadily more wonderful and otherwise highlights the vital culture of this piece. The superbly executed movement supports the detail and style of this quintessentially Jewish, hilarious and riveting tragedy.
Nyman and Kuhn particularly shine, but Nunn's cast as a whole consistently achieves an impressive attention to detail and avoidance of cliché - without breaking too far from that all-important theatrical tradition. Fenton Gray's portrayal of the rabbi turns a tiny part into gold, and Stewart Clarke makes unusual sense of the sometimes cloying "Now I Have Everything".
Otherwise, there are few surprises, other than unusual degrees of sincerity. The music is wonderful. The daily absurdities of home and village are still hilarious, while the stings of prejudice and division sting as raw as ever. This well-deserved and beautifully executed transfer offers some of the best of classic musical theatre by some of its greatest current talent.
Photo credit: Johan Persson