It first opened to New York audiences in 1964 and became the first musical to run beyond 3,000 performances.
For the next six weeks, Fiddler on the roof is on stage in Sydney, and judging by the calibre of the cast, it looks like one production not to be missed!
Starring Anthony Warlow as Tevye, Sigrid Thornton as Golde, Lior as Motel and Nicki Wendt as Yente, Fiddler on the roof is the story of a Jewish milkman living in Tsarist Russia, desperate to preserve his family’s religious and cultural traditions in the face of the increasing impact of external influences.
With music by Pulitzer Prize-winner, Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick and a book by playwright, Joseph Stein, Fiddler remains one of the most successful musicals of all time and has been staged countless times all over the world over the last half a century. In 1971, its film adaptation went on to become America’s highest-grossing film of the year, outperforming the likes of Dirty Harry and Bond classic, Diamonds are forever.
When first asked to take on the lead role of Tevye 18 months ago, Warlow’s initial reaction was to say ‘No’.
“I didn’t think I had the right sensibilities to play him,” Warlow told media at an event in Sydney last week.
“It took Tim [Lawson – the show’s producer] a good six months to actually convince me. He came to New York when I was doing Finding Neverland and we had a big, long conversation. I said I needed some time to really research this and find the right sensibilities for me…”
Fortunately for Australian audiences, that process led Warlow to change his mind, with his research assisting him to appreciate the universality of Fiddler’s story and central themes.
“It doesn’t have to be about Judaism or the Jewish faith necessarily,” he said.
“The universal story for me was that it’s about a father who has daughters and, unbeknownst to him, he becomes a conduit for change in society. And I found that that was really interesting. And as we started working with Roger [Hodgman – the director], it just started to fall into place for me.
“I really loved the discovery of the role. I was very aware that people know Topol, and in the book that I was reading, it was talking about Zero Mostel, who created the role, who was a highly comic performer… Jerome Robbins said to him, ‘You have incredible comic instincts, but trust the script. The script is sweet and beautiful. Don’t play it for laughs.’ And he said, ‘If you do that, Act II will pay off beautifully for you’.
“I went down that path of doing it. So it really is a drama for me, and having said that, the script – which is beautiful – just sends those sweet moments out into the auditorium, and it’s been very satisfying to play.
“I honestly never thought I’d be playing this role, but I’m having an absolute ball.”
Warlow finds it interesting to have taken on the lead role in Fiddler having also played the title character in the 2011 Australian premiere of Doctor Zhivago.
“[Doctor Zhivago] is set in the same period of time, but we were the upper class. This is where they all went to when the Cossacks were having troubles. This is when it all started. So I feel very comfortable in this time period.”
Warlow offered the highest of praise to the company assembled for Fiddler’s new Australian production.
“There’s a famous saying, ‘The court makes the king’. And without this incredible ensemble, we’d be nothing.”
He hopes audiences will walk away from Fiddler having enjoyed a beautiful work that remains true to the show it always has been.
“We’re living in a world now where we have big, spectacular musicals. I think the spectacle in this is the storytelling and the performances.”
Beyond Fiddler, what’s next on the cards for Warlow?
“‘Fiddler’ is my world at this point. Who knows?” was his response when asked that question.
Castmate Mark Mitchell, himself a veteran of the Australian entertainment industry, is excited to be part of this team.
“[I’m] thrilled to be in a performance situation with Anthony Warlow, who I think is the greatest male musical theatre performer in the world at the moment,” he said.
“To have a chance to sing with him is just phenomenal. It’s wonderful, and I’m enjoying it immensely.”
Discussing his role, Mitchell said, “I play the part of Lazar Wolf, the butcher – a traditionalist, who is caught up as much in the maelstrom of tradition and new opportunities and possibilities, and the breaking of tradition as any other character.
“In fact, I’m probably the most adversely affected by it in many respects. Come to think of it, I’m the biggest loser in the whole show.
“He represents those who are clinging to tradition by their bare knuckles, and inevitably, they’re going to fall into the chasm because they can’t cope with the world that’s changing…”
Mitchell’s own familiarity with Fiddler dates back to his childhood.
“I saw it the first time Topol did it here,” he recalled.
“It’s so finely crafted… If you observe it and analyse it, you realise just how particularly poignant every turn is.”
Fiddler on the roof plays at the Capitol Theatre, Haymarket for six weeks only. To purchase tickets, click here.