Fiddler On the Roof continues at the Chichester Festival Theatre until 2 September.
Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Who would have thought that a musical set in an Ukrainian Shtetl, that tells of the persecution and eviction of Jews from their homeland, would prove to be such a durable success.
Such is the strength of Joseph Stein’s book and the music (Jerry Bock) and lyrics (Sheldon Harnick), that revivals of this popular and beloved musical frequently appear.
This latest production, directed by Daniel Evans, shouts class and has the audience delivering thunderous applause at the end of every musical number.
The story tells of Tevye, a poor milkman, and the struggles of his family and fellow villagers in Tsarist Russia at the turn of the century. Amidst the tears and sadness there is plenty of warmth and humour in the musical.
‘Tradition’ opens the show and what follows is the breakdown of tradition with each of Tevye’s daughters challenging the old order – two of them want to choose their own husbands rather than take the ones arranged by their father and the village matchmaker, while the other marries outside of the faith.
Tevye, like the fiddler trying to keep his balance on the rooftop, struggles to maintain the balance between his love for his children and the acceptance of a new order in a changing world.
Lez Brotherston’s set is a bare stage within a large picture frame where characters freeze, from time to time, tableau like. This approach allows Evans to keep the show flowing through swift, simple transitions. Where furniture is required, it is conjured up from old suitcases, milk churns and other odds and ends, as if to emphasise the makeshift poverty that Tevye endures.
One of the show’s many highlights is the sheer theatricality of the staging of Tevye’s dream. It erupts into nightmarish frenzy with the walking dead staggering their way through tombstones amidst hellish fire ringing the stage. Above it all floats a shrieking ghost.
The show is full of great musical set pieces to which Alistair David’s new and lively choreography does full justice. It dazzles and excites to such an extent that there are times when it’s hard not to join in.
‘To Life’ mixes exuberant Jewish and Cossack folk dancing and the vibrant bottle dance is suitably accompanied by a Klezmer band.
Omid Djalili is outstanding as Tevye. He has the audience hooked right from the opening number and then has them cheering after ‘If I Were a Rich Man’. He squeezes every ounce of comedy from the role through looks, gestures, dancing and particularly with his addresses to God. He is also capable of delivering pathos and becoming the thundering patriarch when required.
Tracy-Ann Oberman makes a perfect foil as his long- suffering wife – shrewish with a caustic wit. She brings to ‘Sabbath Prayer’ and ‘Sunrise, Sunset’ a touching simplicity which contrasts beautifully with all the vibrancy of the big numbers.
Simbi Akande, Emma Kingston and Rose Shalloo excel as the three rebellious daughters, while Liza Sadovy’s Yente the matchmaker is a delightful comic creation.
The rest of the 39-strong cast all combine to provide excellent support, each performer contributing to a fine revival.
How heartening to see that Chichester’s long tradition of quality musical theatre is being upheld.