Fiddler on the Roof
Book by Joseph Stein, Music by Jerry Bock and Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick
Chichester Festival Theatre, West Sussex
Reviewed by Jarlath O'Connell
Anglo-Iranian funnyman Omid Djalili is inspired casting as Tevye the milkman, burdened with too many unmarried daughters, in Fiddler on the Roof, Daniel Evans' debut musical as supremo of Chichester Festival Theatre.
Not totally new to musicals, Djalili has played Fagin, confirming him as a proper musical theatre talent to add to his successes in TV, movies and of course in stand-up. He sweeps away memories of the musty Topol, who seemed trapped in this role for eternity, in productions of increasing creakiness. With a comic's mastery of how to land a line and an innate sense of how to read an audience, Djalili brings his familiar, effervescent energy to the part and presents us a very human and affable Tevye.
The piece is evergreen and Evans' vibrant and fluid direction starts and ends with tableaux of a mass of refugees on the move. This is not straining for relevance but rather it perfectly illustrates that the issues here are not ancient history. Joseph Stein's great book, based on the Sholem Aleichem stories, is part of what made this musical a classic, because it perfectly fuses the personal and the political, weaving together very human tales about squabbling villagers in a small shtetl in 1905 Russia.
Evans' paces it perfectly from the leisurely, stripped-down simplicity of the first half, which draws out the comedy, to a riotous dream sequence where he lets Lez Brotherston's designs and David Hersey's lighting take flight. A more sombre mood dominates the second half as the daughters' various couplings get more troublesome for Tevye and the, up till now, placid local security forces are egged to violence by the nationalist politics.
The show, which in its initial outing on Broadway ran 8 years and won 9 Tonys, has of course a much loved score and David White's new orchestrations are rich and delicate. Furthermore a huge cast of 28 allows for some great chorus work here, especially on numbers like 'Anatevka', which reveal the score's beauty.
Choreographer Alistair David is not daunted by Jerome Robbins' original choreography and he bring his own finesse to re-staging it here on a thrust stage. The witty wedding dances perfectly balance the flash with the plausible.
In a fine cast, Tracy-Ann Oberman brings the right mix of world weariness and bossiness to the part of Golde and Liza Sadovy's luxuriates in the barbed ripostes of the matchmaker, Yente. Rose Shalloo is in fine voice as Chava, who falls for the firebrand student, Perchik and Louis Maskell commands the stage in this pivotal role.
Chichester's recent track record of hit West End transfers (Sweeney Toddy, Gypsy, Half a Sixpence) is likely to continue with this and my bet is that it will be in the West End by Christmas, and deservedly so.