Daily Archives: October 2, 2013

Fiddler On The Roof 2013

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JOYCE MCMILLAN on FIDDLER ON THE ROOF at the Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, for The Scotsman 2.10.13.
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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.

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The Jazz Club Murder

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JOYCE MCMILLAN on THE JAZZ CLUB MURDER at Oran Mor, Glasgow, for The Scotsman 2.10.13.
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4 stars ****

AS IAN RANKIN’s first play Dark Road divides opinion at the Royal Lyceum, here comes the lunchtime Play, Pie and Pint season with an elegant miniature example of just how well genre crime fiction can transfer to the stage, given absolute clarity about which genre is in play.

Featuring Canon Sidney Chambers – the same Grantchester sleuth-cum-cleric who appears in his short stories – James Runcie’s Jazz Club Murder takes the form of a smoky 1950’s British B-movie, as it tells the story of the murder of the lovely young daughter of ex-con and club owner Phil “The Cat” Johnson, and of the Canon’s earnest efforts, as a jazz fan and club regular, to find out whodunnit.

And the joy of Marilyn Imrie’s perfectly-pitched production is that it works so gracefully with its chosen style, as Frances Thorburn delivers a belter of a performance as gorgeous jazz singer Gloria Dee, and Paul Dodds’s affable Canon Chambers holds the narrative together, as an amateur sleuth who really does believe in love, forgiveness and hope.  The element of jazz performance in the story lends itself beautifully to the live stage, with George Drennan on trumpet and keyboards. And if the tone is sometimes playful  – with the odd ripe pun, and some sly theatrical jokes about Frances Thorburn’s double role as both Gloria, and the Canon’s posh lady-love Amanda – the laughs are never allowed to get in the way of a story well told, and, in Miss Thorburn’s case, quite beautifully sung.

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