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Review Round-up: Fiddler’s Well-Received Tradition

By • West End
Sheffield Crucible’s production of Fiddler on the Roof opened at the Savoy Theatre last night (29 May 2007, previews from 19 May) to a warm welcome from London critics (See Today’s 1st Night Photos).

The musical, which ran for 3,242 performances when it premiered on Broadway in 1964, was revived at the Crucible this Christmas past (See News, 23 Mar 2007) and is headed by Henry Goodman (pictured) as dairyman Tevye whose strict traditions come into conflict with his five daughters’ desires to marry for love.

The musical set in 1905 Tsarist Russia is based on the stories of Sholom Aleichem with a book by Joseph Stein and score by Jerry Block (music) and Sheldon Harnick (lyrics). This new production is directed by Lindsay Posner, designed by Peter McKintosh and features the original choreography of Jerome Robbins (recreated by Sammy Dallas Bates with additions by Kate Flatt).

The majority of overnight critics were fiddling a happy tune in today’s papers, with particular praise heaped on Goodman’s “first-rate” and perhaps star-making performance at the heart of the production. There were approving nods too for Beverley Klein and Alexandra Silber as his wife and second eldest daughter respectively. And while many welcomed a chance to see Robbins’ “breathtaking” original choreography again, others felt this licence requirement stifled the creative potential of Posner’s “well-executed” production.


  • Michael Coveney for Whatsonstage.com (three stars) – “The set by Peter McKintosh – the shtetl is crazily nailed together with more boring wooden planks than in ten timber yards – and the stranglehold of Jerome Robbins’ original choreography (which comes as part of the licence) obviate any sense of a ‘new look’. Admittedly, the Robbins choreography is worth seeing. The company snakes on, liltingly, hands raised and joined, knees flexed, in the rousing opener, ‘Tradition’. And certain numbers, such as the famous ‘bottle’ dance at the wedding and the violently invasive Cossack dance that prefigures the later ransacking, could hardly be improved. But the tone of the production, relentless and reverential, is defined by the necessity to recreate an interpretation. At least Henry Goodman avoids the ingratiating sentimentality of Topol, the first London Tevye, to such an extent that you could say his performance lacked charm altogether. He refuses to milk the songs the way he milks his cows. Fiddler is less of a ‘show’ than a serious musical. The first act is too long, the second too bleak. Yet it works magnificently, despite this hide-bound presentation.”

  • Fiona Mountford in the Evening Standard (four stars) – “Lindsay Posner’s mature, heartfelt, impeccably executed revival, receiving a deserved transfer from Sheffield, is a perfect reminder of why this tune-stuffed show has been fiddling its way to box office gold since 1964. Posner, nimbly aided by designer Peter McKintosh and choreographer Kate Flatt, constantly underlines the fact that the anchor of Bock, Harnick and Stein's creation, weightier even than the hummability of ‘If I Were a Rich Man’ and ‘Matchmaker’, is the very specificity of its setting. With every turn of the versatile wooden slats, we feel we are witnessing an existence that real people actually experienced, rather than a vague, Brigadoon-like unreality conjured up solely for the purposes of musical fiction. Henry Goodman isn't Topol but he's first-rate as Tevye, the genial dairyman and father of a brood of headstrong daughters. However, endless asides to the Almighty accompanied by a repertoire of stock gestures constantly threaten to topple Tevye over into caricature, and Goodman duly struggles with his gear change into the big emotional crunch scenes of Act II. Shout it with delight from the rooftops: the Fiddler's back in town.

  • Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph - “Lindsay Posner's staging may not be nearly as spectacular as the recent Broadway revival directed by David Leveaux, but it has far more heart. Indeed, the piece actually benefits from being staged on the relatively small Savoy stage. As a result, Jerome Robbins' legendary and still breathtaking choreography achieves an almost explosive energy and impact. And Peter McKintosh's simple timber designs beautifully evoke the dilapidated but homely atmosphere of the Jewish shtetl in pre-Revolutionary Russia, home to characters who at the end of the show, like so many Jews before and since, are forced to set off on their travels yet again. The production's secret weapon, however, is Henry Goodman, whose performance as Tevye should at last see him achieving the star status he so richly deserves. Having already given us the greatest Shylock I ever expect to see, Goodman now turns his attention to a far warmer Jewish character, and finally nails the unfair canard that there has always been a cold calculation about his high-definition performances. Goodman is a performer who seizes the limelight as if it were a birthright, and every moment, every movement, is made to count.”

  • Simon Edge in the Daily Express - “To say Goodman makes the role his own is not quite right. As the sardonic, eye-rolling, shoulder-shrugging peasant philosopher and personal friend of God, he does not try or need to bring a new interpretation. But with the quivering intensity of his dancing, a vocal range that takes him from squeaks to roars, and a command of rich comedy and raw paternal emotion, you don't for a second wish to see anyone else in the part. He is ably supported by Beverley Klein as Golde, his ferocious, hand-on-hips wife, plus a quintet of daughters of whom Alexandra Silber as Hodel, betrothed to a socialist rebel, is particularly affecting. I beamed like an idiot from the opening bars played by the mysterious fiddler of the title, through Goodman's magnificent drunken dance competition with three Cossack soldiers, right up to the breath-taking wedding scene that concludes the first half. After that the mood changes as the Tsarist forces close in. But what the show gives up in comedy it gains in emotional power. Goodman's simple, reproachful glance heavenwards - minus the wise-cracking of his relationship with God in the first act - is beyond eloquent.”

  • Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail - “You would have to be one of the hairier, more exceptionally joyless members of the Arab brotherhood – maybe Osama Bin Laden’s foreign policy speech writer – not to love this Fiddler on the Roof. This celebrated Jewish musical is funny, upsetting and tuneful. And in Henry Goodman it has a star who takes every gesture and gesticulation ever seen in Golders’ Green and exaggerates them by a hundred. One of the puzzling things about Fiddler is that, if any of us Gentiles tried to caricature a Jewish man this lazily, we’d be slayed for raging anti-Semitism. Lindsay Posner’s staging is not strongly visual. Great show – but unlikely to be aired by Al Jazeera.”

    - by Malcolm Rock


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