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Fiddler on the Roof

18 September 13 words: John Anthony
Amongst grinding Russian rural poverty we find there really is a fiddler on the roof

Fiddler on the Roof production photo

On entering the auditorium the audience could not fail to notice the lack of orchestra pit and there must have been visions to the whole production being performed to a digitised backing track. Not so! As the opening number ‘Tradition’ showed the entire cast were in fact trained musicians. Now, whether the decision to have a cast made up solely of musicians was one driven by inventiveness or hard economics is a matter of conjecture, one for the Musicians’ Union and Equity to fight over there.

Certainly for the opening, the curtain call and all of the big set piece ensemble scenes in between having the cast playing their instruments worked wonderfully well. Sadly for the most part however the musical instruments were an unwanted intrusion into the storytelling and emotion of the piece.

The musical is set in Anatevka a small village in Russia where hunger and grinding poverty were the order of the day … every day. It therefore made it difficult for the audience to suspend their disbelief as the poor downtrodden people of the village suitably costumed were carrying what were clearly very expensive musical instruments including, inter alia, bassoon, cello and double bass.

That said there was so much to admire in this production. In particular the eponymous Fiddler (Jennifer Douglas) who only had a small part to play. But, thanks to Stanislavski, as we all now know “there are no small parts only …” you know the rest. Jennifer was a delight all night! She was lovely, her costume splendid and her movement was simply spellbinding. The fact that she was an accomplished violinist was more than any audience member had a right to expect. Another fine performance was given by the Rabbi (Neil Savage) who used all of his years of experience to extract every ounce of humour from the libretto.

No review of this musical can fail to comment on the central character, Tevye (Paul Michael Glaser). Casting a big name in arguably the biggest and most demanding role in musical theatre is not a guarantee of success. Happily he was good, but perhaps the part requires an actor touched with greatness or maybe it was those damned musical instruments that just kept getting in the way.

The entire production was directed and choreographed by Craig Revel Horwood. The choreography was particularly pleasing full of invention interspersed with some witty touches. Certainly not a “Dance disaster darling!” very far from it. The score for the curtain call is particularly well written and the director made full use of it which roused the audience to a sustained ovation. In summation, a good production of a great musical.

Mayflower Theatre, Southampton presents Fiddler on the Roof at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham from 17 to 21 September 2013.

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