Anthony Warlow, complete with appropriate affectations, makes a triumphant return to the Australian stage in Fiddler on the Roof, after three years treading the boards on Broadway. He takes the lead role in this beloved musical, the theme of which resonates as strongly today as when it premiered on Broadway in 1964.
Fiddler on the Roof tells of Tevye, an impoverished milkman, and his family’s journey. Warlow plays Tevye, the head of a Russian Jewish family with a wife and five daughters who live in a small village called Anatevka, predominantly populated by Jews. The year is 1905. It is the eve of the Russian Revolution and rumblings of discontent are growing louder by the day. Their traditional existence is turned upside down as the modern world increasingly impacts their way of life. The book is by Joseph Stein, based upon stories written by preeminent Yiddish author and playwright Sholem Aleichem.
The classic numbers – Tradition, Matchmaker Matchmaker, If I Were a Rich Man, To Life, Sunrise Sunset and Do You Love Me – remain such crowd-pleasers thanks to the celebrated score by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick.
The 30-strong cast display energy and gusto, led so ably by arguably Australia’s most feted name in musical theatre. Other key players are Sigrid Thornton, who plays Tevye’s wife of 25 years, Golde, and Mark Mitchell, cast as butcher Lazar Wolf, a widower who has eyes for Tevye’s eldest daughter Tzeitel, a role filled by Tegan Wouters. ARIA award winning musician Lior is the village tailor Motel, the love of the latter’s life, while Nicki Wendt is the busybody matchmaker Yente.
The backdrop for this new production is a simple but smart set, designed by Richard Roberts, which has the appearance of wooden cutouts representing the various houses in the village. They then double as the inside of Tevye’s home and the respective businesses in town.
Fiddler’s pathos, honesty, warmth and humour remain intact after all these years. The script has bite – alternately moving (the discrimination palpable), uplifting, joyful and funny – and is performed with distinction. It is easy to see why the original production of Fiddler collected nine Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Among the many highlights is the Russian dance number at Motel’s wedding to Tzeitel.
Direction is from Roger Hodgman (Pip Mushin is the resident director) and musical direction by Kellie Dickerson, while the choreographer is Dana Jolly.
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television