Lindsay Posner’s new production of an ever-popular musical received a West End welcome last night as Fiddler On The Roof opened at the Savoy, following a transfer from the Sheffield Crucible. That ever-popular West End performer Henry Goodman takes centre stage as the man who holds the threads of this classic story together, Tevye. Caroline Bishop went to the first night…
Based on the stories of Russian Jew Shalom Aleichem, Fiddler On The Roof is set in 1905 in the village of Anatevka, Russia, where Tevye, a poor Jewish farmer, is trying to support his wife and five daughters. He dreams of being rich and finding wealthy husbands for his daughters, and keeps a running counsel with God, appealing to him to help him out. His life is built on his faith and tradition, as so proudly emphasised by Tevye and the villagers in the famous opening number.
While his wife, Golde (Beverley Klein), has regular updates from Anatevka’s official Matchmaker (Julie Legrand) as to who may be a suitable (for that read rich) match for their daughters, the three eldest – Tzeitel, Hodel and Chava – have other ideas. Life in the cities of Russia is changing and though Anatevka is far behind, the arrival of young radical Perchik (Damian Humbley) sends ripples through the traditions that until now have bound the girls to a future chosen by their parents.
Goodman’s Tevye is a proud, comic and endearingly lovable character, determined to uphold the Jewish traditions he holds so dear, and yet undermined by his love for his daughters and his penchant for a tipple or two. Head held high, arms outstretched, his whole body quivering with intense passion as he stamps out the song Tradition, there can be no doubt of the pride that Goodman injects into his portrayal of Tevye. His struggle to understand the changing world is touching; as one by one his daughters defy him and find their own husbands, he is mystified to realize that “love, it’s the new style”. His sweetly performed duet with his wife, Do You Love Me?, tugs at the heartstrings.
While the programme note describing Fiddler On The Roof as possibly the least glamorous of musicals is apt, this production injects charm into the story to make up for the lack of glamour. The ragged wooden set by Peter McKintosh effectively conjures a multitude of scenes as it revolves on a central platform; it is magically lit as the eponymous fiddler accompanies Tevye during his conversations with God. The choreography – reproduced by Sammy Dallas Bayes from Jerome Robbins’s original – is full of Jewish passion (including the classic bottle dance) and, of course, tradition, particularly during the wedding celebration when Tzeitel marries her childhood sweetheart Motel.
Though an ensemble piece with strong support from the central performances, this Fiddler On The Roof is very much Goodman’s show, and he marks his authority on the production with a stamp of his farmers’ boots.