Of all the shows in the classic music theatre genre, Fiddler on the Roof is one of the best – a strong book and catchy songs. Add the right cast and it’s usually a recipe for success.
As is the case with the latest incarnation of the Stein/Harnick/Bock musical at the Princess Theatre. Directed by veteran Roger Hodgman (one of those rare directors who seems to command praise from those he has worked with even when actors talk off the record!), musically directed and conducted by Kellie Dickerson and choreographed by Dana Jolly, it has the right mix of ingredients to take an audience with it from the lifting of the first curtain. Much of that excitement can be credited to Dickerson’s fine work with a great orchestra.
Much has been made of Anthony Warlow returning from Broadway to play the role Topol made his own. And therein lies an interesting point – if you haven’t seen Topol in the role of Tevye, then Warlow will be your role model. If you have seen and loved Topol, you need to accept a different characterization. Warlow’s Tevye is less laugh out loud funny and more reflective and introspective. Initially, it took me a little while to adjust to this different Tevye, but Warlow’s interpretation makes a huge amount of sense when you get to the darker second act, and he certainly claims the stage and looms large in the theatre. It’s a fine performance with magical vocals, and it’s obvious that Warlow is giving his all to the role – bravo!
Playing opposite this traditional Jewish father of five daughters is screen legend Sigrid Thornton, who has diversified into live theatre over the past few years. As a singer, she can’t hope to match Warlow but her vocals are adequate. As an actor she is a wonderful Golde, with a good sense of timing and excellent diction, and as this role requires a top actor who can get away with some singing, she is delightful. The warmth of the relationship between Tevye and Golde is well executed by Warlow and Thornton, so this is a good pairing.
Nicki Wendt has to be one of the best comic actors in the country, and she was born to play the matchmaker, Yente. She makes the most of every opportunity, we hear every word and her timing is exemplary. The smaller character role of the butcher, Lazar Wolfe, fits comedy star Mark Mitchell like a glove.
And now to the younger members of the cast. Recording artist Lior works well as Motel opposite Teagan Wouters as Tzeitel, although I’m not convinced that his vocal style suits this classical music theatre, but again, the casting works.
The standouts of the young ones for me were Blake Bowden as rebel student Perchik, Monica Swayne as second daughter Hodel and Jensen Overend as non-Jewish suitor Fyedka. This trio all has stunning vocals for music theatre, and acting skills in spades. They simply inhabited their characters completely, and delivered thrilling vocal work.
On the technical side, I liked especially the fact that the set was simple – basically one set with a house insert on a revolve, and the moves are done by people, not technology. Most refreshing!
While Fiddler on the Roof is set in a small Russian village in 1905, its themes of conflict between opposing forces and the difficulty of adapting to change are timeless. This is a musical with a huge heart and unless yours is made of stone, it should be a memorable night in the theatre for all the right reasons.