Six months after its hugely successful run at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, the latest production of classic musical Fiddler On The Roof, starring actor Henry Goodman, has arrived in London’s West End. Caroline Westbrook offers her verdict.
There can be very few Jews in the world who haven’t seen Fiddler On The Roof at some point in their lives. Whether it’s on film or on stage, watching this rousing classic, based on a story by Sholom Aleichem, is as much a part of Jewish life as fasting on Yom Kippur. And yet however many times you may have sat through it, it’s one of those musicals which warrants repeat viewings, largely due to a soundtrack which features one classic tune after another.
The latest production of the show, which sold out the Sheffield Crucible Theatre late last year, has just arrived at the Savoy Theatre in London’s West End, with renowned stage actor Henry Goodman taking on the role of Tevye, the mild-mannered milkman scraping a living for his wife and five daughters in a turn-of-the-century Russian shtetl. For anyone who doesn’t know the story, Tevye finds himself battling both personal and political conflict as, one by one, his daughters rebel against the idea of entering into arranged marriages and begin to choose their own husbands. Meanwhile, the prospect of being booted out of their homes by the Russians hangs like a shadow over the shtetl…
In reality, Fiddler On The Roof has a very serious storyline, tackling such issues as changing attitudes within society and the thorny issue of marrying out of the religion – yet it’s enlivened by the witty dialogue and the songs (Tradition, If I Were A Rich Man, Matchmaker Matchmaker, Sunrise Sunset, To Life and many others). And in this particular production, everybody seems to be enjoying themselves immensely. The first act (which to be fair, features all the best tunes) is especially lively, with its big production numbers (Tevye’s Dream is especially inventive here) and even bigger laughs. And while the more serious second act can’t compare, there’s still plenty of fun to be had.
Much of this though is down to uniformly excellent performances from the cast – in particular Henry Goodman, who seems to have been born to play Tevye – not only does he look the part, bearing a remarkable resemblance to Topol here, but he brings amazing stage presence and charm to the role as well as a superb singing voice. Goodman is a natural comedian (one wonders on the strength of this what he might have been like as Max Bialystock had he stayed with The Producers on Broadway) but also a gifted dramatic actor, and he strikes just the right balance between knockabout comedy and the more serious moments. His performance alone makes this production worth seeing.
But there’s plenty more to like about this Fiddler – from the cleverly designed revolving set through to energetic, breathless dance routines, it barely puts a foot wrong (with the possible exception of some of the fakest looking beards ever seen on a West End stage). If you’re Jewish, you may have seen it all before but it’s well worth seeing again. If you’re not Jewish, prepare to be entranced.
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