JOYCE MCMILLAN on FIDDLER ON THE ROOF at the Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, for The Scotsman 2.10.13.
4 stars ****
THE HISTORY OF THEATRE is full of great and legendary musicals, from Singing In The Rain to Carousel. Yet I’m not sure there’s any other piece of music theatre that combines song and narrative so perfectly as Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick’s great 1964 musical Fiddler On The Roof, now revived by the Edinburgh-based Music & Lyrics Company – with the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton – in this magnificently warm and eloquent touring production starring Paul Michael Glaser as the show’s iconic central character, Tevye the milkman.
The secret of the show’s tremendous musical energy lies in the powerful, disaturbing link between the play’s historic setting – in a little Jewish shtetl in western Russia in 1905, when a series of of anti-Semitic pogroms are about to drive the people west into all the horrors of the 20th century – and the urgent need for people caught up in this history to preserve their music and culture; it’s as if every note Jerry Bock’s great, familiar score acts both as an elegy for a lost world, and as a tribute to the survival of European Jewish culture into the late 20th century. And in Craig Horwood’s strong, intimate and inventive production, the fact that every member of the 19-strong ensemble also acts as a musician and dancer, constantly moving around instrument in hand, adds another layer of feeling for a world in which people’s hands were never still, and everyone constantly had physical work to do, even as they sang, talked and fell in love.
Paul Michael Glaser is not a great singer, but his performance as Tevye is heartfelt and moving almost beyond words. And he is surrounded by a supporting cast who glow with energy and commitment, in a production that is warm and domestic rather than laden with symbolism, but that nonetheless gives this great story a powerful, unforgettable human voice.