During his all too brief two-year tenure as artistic director of SheffieldTheatres, Sam West instigated a number of memorable productions, amongstthem this conventional but entertaining revival of Joseph Stein’s FiddlerOn The Roof.
Transferring to the Savoy Theatre in the West End, Lindsay Posner’sproduction tinkers little with the staging, retaining much of JeromeRobbins’ original Broadway choreography this is a traditional treadthrough a familiar story, though still engaging with it.
Set in a small Russian village in 1905, Fiddlerconcerns thestruggle of good-natured milkman Tevye to cling to tradition and steer hisfive young daughters into marriages that will ensure their future financialsecurity. The girls however have other ideas, choosing to follow theirhearts rather than their father’s wishes (one has fallen for a poor localtailor, another for a young student with revolutionary views, while a thirdbreaks a further taboo by falling for a Russian soldier). This all occursagainst a background of major social upheaval, there are dark changes on thehorizon that threaten to completely overwhelm the village and itspeople.
Henry Goodman is superbly charismatic as Tevye, playing him with alightness of step and a great amiability. He looks completely at home in therole and has a great singing vouce, even if his accent occasionally falters.No one else comes close to matching him in terms of stage presence and theremaining cast, though highly competent, appear rather bland in comparison.Though having said that, Damian Humbley, as the radical student Perchick,has the right combination of righteous passion and brattish arrogance.
The first half is something of a long haul, cramming in the musical’smost familiar numbers: Tradition, Matchmaker and, of course, If I was A RichMan. There are some superb moments, even if the choreography often feels alittle constricted on the Savoy stage. After the interval there is adramatic change in tone, as the story’s darker elements are brought to thefore. The main failing of Posner’s production is that it never quite gets togrips with this shift; this shorter second half simply doesn’t pack thenecessary emotional impact. Goodman too seems less at ease in thesescenes.
As this close community is shattered, as this family, whose trials youhave followed for the last two and a bit hours, are pulled apart by outsideforces, it should hit you in the heart and the head, but it doesn’t reallydo either. A shame, as in its earlier scenes, this is warm and entertainingproduction, well sung and engaging, far more than just a time capsule piece.It successfully reminds you why this musical has remained so popular overthe years.
Posner’s rather reverential approach wouldn’t have jarred so much had henot lost his footing in the second act gear change. Still, this is a solidand enjoyable show with a strong central performance, it just lacks thatextra kick that would make it something truly special.