Lindsay Posner’s traditional revival of Bock, Harnick and Stein’s classic 1964 Broadway hit Fiddler on the Roof, lands at the Savoy, after its original run at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre. The story of the Jewish dairyman Tevye, his family and their little village of Anatevka in 1905 Russia, their world about to change, never fails to charm me, even if this production can be a little stilted at times. It is a joyful yet sad story, old fashioned compared with the modern musical, but the show can soar beyond its enthusiastic song and dance numbers, as was shown by David Leveaux’s brilliant 2005 Broadway production.
I enjoyed this production in its previous home, but the move to the beautiful art deco Savoy Theatre has enabled several improvements to be made, but at the cost of truncating the large wooden set representing Anatevka (suitable for The Crucible’s huge open arena, but not for The Savoy’s proscenium arch stage). The enhancements are worth this cost, the orchestra is noticeably beefed up, the rich Russian-Jewish folk music inspired score sounds much superior here. The choreography has also been improved, Jerome Robbins original moves having been reinstated and adapted by Sammy Dallas Bayes. What’s left of the original set, is a wooden structure in the middle of the stage, now on a revolve, used as the family home and several other settings. In fact the whole stage is filled with wooden planks, supposedly evoking the fabric of the small village, but it seems a rather dull and overlarge setting to me.
Henry Goodman is excellent as Tevye, he sometimes comes close to overacting in comedy mode, but his well honed comic timing saves him. As a top-quality serious actor too, he is able to convey the conflicting emotions needed when dealing with his daughters, and their pursuit of love outside the confines of the arranged marriage. Beverly Klein as his wife Golde, is perfect, a mix of maternal bossiness towards her daughters and un-cowed feistiness towards her husband. The rest of the large cast acquit themselves well, particularly the young dancers.
The action occasionally sags, but the spirit is lifted, the show coming fully to life, during the big song and dance numbers (Tradition, To Life, The Bottle Dance and The Dream particularly), which are done with great gusto. The second act deals with the emotional consequences of the story, and of course nearly brings a tear to the eye. But I couldn’t help thinking how momentous the changes affecting Tevye and his family are, and that they didn’t quite seem as significant and moving as they could have been.
This Fiddler is not as emotionally satisfying or generally polished as it might be, but it’s an enjoyable production none the less.