WHEN the news came that Paul Michael Glaser had been cast in the lead role in Fiddler on the Roof I wasn’t sure whether he had been chosen for his musical theatre ability or his high profile name.
Sometimes the actor can overshadow a show, becoming the crowd puller rather than the production itself. Worry ye not, Glaser is so comfortable in the iconic role of protagonist Tevye it is as if the part was written just for him.
Fidder originally ran for eight years on Broadway in the 1960s before being adapted into a film in 1971 making the actor Topol (who had also played the lead role on the stage) a household name.
The story follows Tevye, a poor milkman living in tsarist Russia who believes in tradition and likes to have a chat with the Good Lord every now and then.
Married to Golda (Karen Mann) for more than 25 years, the couple of three daughters, Tzeitel (Emily O’Keefe), Hodel (Liz Singleton) and Chava (Claire Petzal), who are now at the age when a husband needs to be found by the village matchmaker and general busybody Yente (Liz Kitchen).
However, the headstrong sister don’t want an arranged marriage to a rich older man, they want to find their own husbands. During the course of the story we see Tevye’s faith tested when all three fall in love with men their own age.
Eldest daughter, Tzeitel has secretly been engaged to the village tailor, Motel, for a year and in Tevye’s ignorance of his daughter’s relationship, he agrees a match for her with aging widower, the butcher Lazar Wolff. In order to back out of the deal Tevye tells his wife that Lazar’s wife came to him in a dream and told him that Lazar was not to marry Tzeitel.
The dream sequence is one of the many highlights of the show with Susannah Van Den Berg floating around the stage as Lazar’s dead wife, Fruma-Sarah, ordering everyone around and denying the marriage.
Every piece of musical theatre has a back story and while all the mayhem is taking place, it’s here we begin see how Jews were persecuted in 19th Century Russia which makes Tzeitel and Motel’s wedding a bittersweet affair.
As the tale continues to unfold, second daughter Hodel falls for earnest young firebrand Perchik which, incidentally, Glaser portrayed in the film; and youngest daughter Chava falls for a man of a different faith, truly testing Tevye’s faith.
Fiddler is packed with celebrated numbers – some of the best in musical theatre – including If I Were a Rich Man, Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Miracle of Miracles, To Life, Sunrise Sunset and Tradition. Although If I Were A Rich Man is the musical’s showstopper, Do You Love Me? was the duet which tugged at my heartstrings. Glaser and Mann perform it with a wit and tenderness rarely seen in musical theatre.
Throughout the show Glaser’s timing is perfect and the chemistry between him and Karen Mann is pure comedy gold.
Jerome Robbins’ original direction and choreography has been reproduced by Craig Revel Horwood (yes, the grumpy judge on Strictly Come Dancing) and each member of the ensemble not only has to act, sing and dance, they also have to have the ability to play at least one musical instrument. Now that takes some doing!
There are no weak links and Fiddler on the Roof is everything musical theatre should be – uplifting, funny, thought provoking and most importantly entertaining.
I wonder if Paul Michael Glaser ever thought his career would turn full circle in one of the greatest musicals ever written. From an idealistic revolutionary Russian, to traditional peasant Jew.
The show performs at Theatre Royal, Nottingham until Saturday, September 21, and tickets are available by calling 0115 989 5555 or by logging on to www.trch.co.uk