A perennial favourite of the musical theatre, Fiddler on the Roof has been crying out for a fresh, professional revival in Melbourne for some time, so this tightly performed and faithful production headed by Australia’s own Broadway star Anthony Warlow, is to be welcomed with open arms.
Warlow’s Tevye, the Jewish dairy farmer living on a shtetl in pre-Revolution Russia, with his wife Golde and five daughters, is a lovable, decent man simply trying to stay true to his faith in a world full of hardship, change and turmoil. In a gentle performance, that highlights the man’s charming humour and decency, Warlow very quickly reminds just what a void he has left on our stages while entertaining audiences on the Great White Way, most recently delivering a superb turn as Charles Frohman / Captain Hook in Finding Neverland. The audience is captured in the palm of his hand, not just due to the richness of his vocal delivery, but to the deeply felt intimacy of Tevye’s conversations with God.
In a typically Jewish way, the grimness of the subject matter here – poverty, racism, dispossession – gives over to humour and then pathos as Tevye, his family and his community in the little town of Anatevka are driven out of their homes as part of the Russian pogroms of the early 1900s.
For a brand new Australian production, director Roger Hodgman has played things very safely, following the ‘Tradition’ of many a past staging and delivering a version, that may not be particularly original, but is comfortable and reliable, making it well suited to audiences who like to know what they’re going to get before they walk in the door. Dana Jolly’s take on Jerome Robbins’ choreography likewise hits all the marks, and despite a lack of synchronicity in the opening, the ‘bottle dance’ and Cossack challenge numbers do not disappoint.
One can’t help but stop to think however, that a story whose narrative is driven by the desire to challenge the institution and break off from traditions is begging to be given an injection of modernity and ingenuity. As it stands, this is an innocuous and easily enjoyable production, if a fairly uninspired one.
Musical Director Kellie Dickerson leads her ten-strong orchestra expertly through a new orchestration that gleams with precision and delights the ear. Likewise, Israeli-Australian singer songwriter Lior, in his musical theatre debut, brings his wondrously beautiful and lilting vocals to the sweetly nerdy tailor Motel. If only the character had more to sing.
In contrast, Sigrid Thornton gives a tentative vocal performance as Tevye’s wife Golde. Leading numbers such as ‘Sabbath Prayer’ and ‘The Dream’ with breathy tones that go towards creating a unique interpretation of the usually sharp-tongued and domineering character. Thornton’s Golde is a strong-willed, but supportive and respectful wife to Tevye.
Mark Mitchell brings added humour to the supporting character of the butcher Lazar Wolf, to whom Tevye has promised the hand of his eldest daughter in marriage, and gives a superbly bitter rendition of Lazar’s confrontation at Motel and Tzeitel’s wedding. As the matchmaker Yente, Nicki Wendt brings her trademark comic timing and hilarious delivery.
Teagan Wouters, Monica Swayne and Jessica Vickers as Tevye’s three eldest daughters, Tzeitel, Hodel and Chava, each take their turn at defying their father with their romantic choices and these young actress all ably and swiftly capture their dramatic moments.
Set design by Richard Roberts is Spartan, yet effective and thanks to Paul Jackson’s lighting design, often evocative. But it does little to hide the fact this production is obviously touring to smaller theatres – blacking out at least 8 feet on the sides of the stage and boxing in the performance, curtailing potential visual spectacle and practically thumbing its nose at the grand Princess theatre stage.
Fiddler on the Roof is a true classic of the music theatre genre that any self-respecting theatre lover has to see at least once live on stage, and this production is at least as good as any before it. What it lacks in originality it makes up for in star power and dependability, making it a guaranteed crowd pleaser.
Fiddler On The Roof is currently playing at the Princess Theatre in Melbourne’s East End Theatre District until February 27th before moving to Sydney in March.
For details and tickets: http://fiddlerontherooftour.com/
Photo credit: Jeff Busby