Fiddler On The Roof (review). Paul Michael Glaser in smash hit revival

Fiddler On The Roof is one of those iconic stories that, once seen, stays with you for the rest of your life.

By Anne Cox
Friday, 31st January 2014, 8:00 am
Fiddler On The Roof. Photo by Tristram Kenton
Fiddler On The Roof. Photo by Tristram Kenton

You come away humming the infectious soundtrack and laughing to yourself at the plight of dairyman Tevye, a henpecked husband and doting father of five daughters.

You get a little choked up, even if you’re not Jewish, at the dramatic and tragic turn the drama takes as the outside world invades their little village, Anatevka, in the wastelands of Russian.

This latest version of the stage musical, which is playing at the Wycombe Swan this week, is very special. Its star is Paul Michael Glaser whose career, in taking the role of Tevye, has come full circle.

Fiddler On The Roof. Photo by Tristram Kenton

Back in the day, well, 1971, he made one of his first screen appearances alongside Topol in the film version, playing a young firebrand called Perchik who woos one of the daughters.

Now, and I’m shocked myself after Googling this, the once dark and brooding action hero, is soon to celebrate his 71st birthday and has turned into Topol.

PMG’s once thick unruly brown hair has given way to an even thicker mop of salt and pepper curls and he’s grown a humongous beard. And what a wry sense of humour! The man’s a cuddly teddy bear.

Actually he looks like everyone’s idea of Tevye. He cuddles and reassures his stage daughters with utter conviction. You couldn’t get a better father figure.

What’s more he holds his own in the singing department and shows tremendous stage presence. I’m pretty sure there were a large number of women in the first night audience who would willingly have swapped places with his nag of a wife Golde (a splendid Karen Mann).

What also makes this touring version a stand-out success is the supporting cast. There’s no doubt that the show is a star vehicle for PMG but he’s backed by an incredibly versatile group of thrusting young talent.

Everyone, including the lead, plays an instrument, which, I suppose, does cut down the costs of touring with a live orchestra, but can be a bit cumbersome when you’re trying to dance and play at the same time.

The opening scene sees a young fiddle player sitting high up in the eaves of a peasant’s house. She starts to play that haunting folk melody and the hairs stand up on the back of your neck.

The shack, a clever set design by Diego Pitarch, opens up like a dolls house to become Tevye’s home.

Before long we’re moving through a lengthy first act which introduces us to his family and the efforts made to marry off his daughters according to tradition.

Tevye rails at God for making his horse sick, for landing him with five daughters, for not making him rich.

He often misquotes The Good Book and enjoys verbally sparring with his wife. Tevye’s monologues to the audience are accompanied by much waving of hands and grimaces. The Jewishness is overwhelming and completely endearing.

The highlight, among many, came at the end of the first act when director and choreographer Craig Revel Horwood flexes his muscles with a spectacular bottle dance performed during a wedding celebration.

The story later takes a darker turn when it moves away from family and towards the persecution of the Jews.

There are some lovely set pieces, particularly the dream sequence which is very effectively and imaginatively achieved.

It’s the songs that won’t leave you alone. Written by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick there’s the unforgettable If I Were A Rich Man; Tradition; To Life; Sunrise, Sunset; and Do You Love Me. And then there’s that fiddle player…

This marvellous revival of Fiddler On The Roof is a must see show. It’s on at the Wycombe Swan until Saturday and later in its run appears at Northampton’s Royal and Derngate Theatre from April 22-26.

For tickets for the Swan call the box office 01494 512000 or visit the R & D call 01604 624811 or visit me @LBOanne