Time and Tradition – Fiddler on the Roof

fiddler

First performed in 1964, Fiddler on the Roof, created by Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick and Joseph Stein, is one of the world’s most enduring and well-loved musicals, telling the story of the inhabitants of a Russian Jewish village, whose traditional lifestyle is challenged by political and cultural changes beyond their control. A new production by Music & Lyrics in association with the Mayflower Theatre, Southampton is currently showing at the Birmingham Hippodrome.

The play is set in 1905 in the build-up to Russia’s first wave of revolutionary unrest. Like its characters, it begins with a narrow perspective, largely ignoring the world beyond its own little setting. Its first act is overwhelmingly comic, its humour and dogged optimism masking a darker undercurrent and sidelining the emerging threats to the community’s way of life. Finally though, the cracks begin to show: Act One ends with a pogrom at a wedding, and in Act Two, everything falls apart.

Fiddler%20On%20The%20Roof-Mayflower-475This being my first experience of Fiddler on the Roof, the biggest surprise for me was finding out how much of it I actually already knew. This is a musical which has seeped so fully into our collective consciousness that references abound in film, TV, theatre and even pop music, from Mrs. Doubtfire and The Lion King 3, to The Muppets and Gwen Stefani’s “Rich Girl”. One might well wonder, then, whether it’s possible to bring anything new to a show already so firmly established in popular culture. This is, however, something that Director/Choreographer Craig Revel Horwood (Strictly Come Dancing) and Musical Director Sarah Travis have amazingly succeeded in doing.

In this production, there is no pit orchestra, with all of the music instead provided by the cast on stage. The actors carry around their instruments, incorporating them into the performance and making them an extension of their characters. I’ve seen similar things done before (the RSC’s Heart of Robin Hood in Christmas 2011 saw musicians transformed into animals, their instruments providing comic sound effects) but never anything on this scale, with an entire, complex musical score being played only by an impressively multi-tasking cast who sing, act, dance and play all at the same time. This has the effect of really bringing music to the forefront of the show, making the audience acutely aware of the importance of the orchestra, not only in this show, but in musical productions generally. The Fiddler%20On%20The%20Roof-Mayflower-1186instruments are shown to be an essential part of the storytelling, not only where they blend in naturally in the gleefully riotous dance sequences and party scenes, but even in terms of conveying emotion elsewhere. Lazar Wolf’s (Paul Kissaun) rising anger and frustration, for example, is translated into an ominous double bass line, while Motel’s (Jon Trenchard) flute is perfectly suited to his endearing combination of quiet timidity and youthful enthusiasm.

It’s an ambitious concept, but one that the exceptionally talented cast pull off with great aplomb, their acting and singing not suffering for all the additional work required of them. Paul Michael Glaser (Starsky and Hutch), returning to Fiddler on the Roof 43 years after the release of the film in which he played the revolutionary Perchik, here presents a rich and complex Tevye, treading the tightrope walk between humour and sadness as adeptly as the title character balances on the roof. He’s well matched by as his bossy wife Golde (Karen Mann), and nowhere is their shared balancing act more compelling than in the uproariously funny yet deeply poignant “Do You Love Me?”, where we learn that, for all their complaining, 25 years together has Paul Michael Glaser - Fiddler on the Rooffostered a deep bond between the couple. The moment of nostalgia they share during “Sunrise, Sunset” at their daughter Tzeitel’s (Emily O’Keefe) wedding is also beautifully bittersweet. These are undoubtedly the production’s most nuanced performances, though Steven Bor as Perchik and Liz Singleton as Hodel come close, with Perchik’s “new-fangled” ideas adding to the comedy, while their eventual separation from the family is deeply moving. Elsewhere, though, a more excessive kind of melodrama is sometimes welcome, as in the case of Yente, the matchmaker and the spectacularly grotesque, pantomime-like ghost of Fruma Sarah, Lazar Wolf’s dead wife, both played by Susannah Van Den Berg.

Along with the music, another interesting touch was the casting of Jennifer Douglas as the Fiddler. Having this part played by a woman (dressed up in a colourful waistcoat and trousers in contrast to the other women’s long skirts and blouses), works as a sign of what is to come, further undermining Tevye’s already rather unconvincing appropriation of her for his analogy about the village clinging to its traditions: we feel almost as though she has been stuck up on the roof out of the way, rather than staying there by choice. Like the story’s other female characters, she is expected to passively observe and accept what happens while others drive the action, remaining essentially powerless despite seeing everything from a unique vantage point. When she finally climbs down from the roof, Tevye’s invitation to her to follow him works as an acknowledgement of her as a real, equal character with her own independent will, symbolising his acceptance of the new order of things and his willingness to let his daughters choose their own fates.

Fiddler on the Roof is showing at the Birmingham Hippodrome until Saturday 15th March. A limited number of tickets are still available. Visit the Birmingham Hippodrome website or call 0844 338 5000 to book.

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All Singing, All Dancing – 2014 at the Birmingham Hippodrome

Having ended a hugely successful 2013 with record-breaking Christmas panto attendance (over 115,000 people saw the show), the Birmingham Hippodrome is now dancing and singing its way into the new year with tons of exciting ballet and musical shows, beginning with a run of Matthew Bourne’s acclaimed Swan Lake production, which opens at the theatre tonight.

Matthew Bourne's SWAN LAKE. 15-12-2009

Following several previous sell-out seasons at the Hippodrome, Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake is returning for a two-week run, from Wednesday 5th – Saturday 15th February. Widely considered to be a “modern-day classic”, Bourne’s reinterpretation of the original ballet sees the traditional female cast replaced by an all-male ensemble. The iconic production has so far received over 30 international theatre awards, including three Tony Awards. Said Bourne of his return to Birmingham:

Birmingham Hippodrome continues to be one of the most important dance venues in the country and has some of the best facilities for dancers.  I am privileged and thankful to have such a strong relationship with all at Birmingham Hippodrome and the audience who have been so supportive of my work and my Company.”

This current season will see the Prince played by returning dancers Simon Williams and Sam Archer, as well as Liam Mower, who will be making his debut in the role. The Olivier Award-winning Mower previously starred in the original West End run of Billy Elliot.

In addition to the main production, audience members attending on Thursday 13th February will also have the chance to see a special “curtain raiser” performance by students from Stratford-Upon-Avon College, Walsall College and Birmingham Ormiston Academy. Inspired by Swan Lake, this five-minute show will be performed by 19 students who, over the past few months, have been working closely with Dominic North, one of Matthew Bourne’s principal dancers, and Clare Palethorpe, a freelance dance practitioner. To see get a sneak preview behind the scenes of the show, check out the official Hippodrome blog.

If you’re attending the show, don’t forget to tweet @brumhippodrome about your experience, using the hashtag #BHSwans. If you’ve been lucky enough to grab yourself £5 First Night tickets, please give us your thoughts on the scheme here.

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Following on from Swan Lake, an exciting new production of Fiddler on the Roof will be showing from Tuesday 11th – Saturday 15th March. The nine time Tony Award-winning musical is amongst Broadway’s longest running shows, and is filled with instantly recognisable songs such as If I Were A Rich Man, Matchmaker Matchmaker, To Life, Tradition and Sunrise Sunset.

This latest production is directed and choreographed by Strictly Come Dancing’s Craig Revel Horwood and stars Paul Michael Glaser (Starsky & Hutch) as Tevye, a local milkman whose traditional ideals are challenged when his headstrong daughters decide to marry for love, rather than accept the advice of Yente the Matchmaker. Glaser also featured in the 1971 film adaptation of the show, as the student and Bolshevik revolutionary Perchik. Sarah Travis is the production’s musical director and set and costume are designed by Diego Pitarch. Said Executive Producer John Stalker:

We are thrilled to welcome Paul Michael Glaser to the iconic and starring role of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. It is a part he has longed to play for years and that he has chosen to realise his dream in this new production from Craig Revel Horwood for Music & Lyrics is both humbling and tremendously exciting. Musical theatre lovers the length and breadth of the UK and Ireland are in for a very special treat and we expect demand for tickets to be high”.

Tickets for Fiddler on the Roof cost £15-£37 with some £5 tickets available for those aged 16-23 as part of the First Night scheme. Please let us know if you are using the scheme. To book, call 0844 338 5000 or visit the Birmingham Hippodrome website.

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In May, Matthew Bourne will be directing a second production at the Hippodrome, his large-scale dance spectacular, The Lord of the Flies. The production will be showing from Wednesday 14th until Saturday 17th May as part of the International Dance Festival Birmingham 2014.

Presented by New Adventures in partnership with Re:Bourne, and choreographed by Olivier Award nominee Scott Ambler, the show will bring together professional dancers with young people from the West Midlands region. Professional dancers will include Sam Archer as ‘Maurice’, Luke Murphy as ‘Sam’, Dominic North as ‘Ralph’, Sam Plant as ‘Piggy’, Alastair Postlethwaite as ‘Eric’, Danny Reubens as ‘Jack’ and Dan Wright as ‘Roger’. The young cast will be unique to each venue on the production’s tour, The full cast for the Birmingham Hippodrome performance has yet to be announced. The show will also feature music by Terry Davies and set and costume design by Olivier-Award winner Lez Brotherston. Its touring directors are New Adventures principal dancers Adam Galbraith and Alan Vincent.

Tickets for The Lord of the Flies are priced at £15-£36 and can be booked by calling the box office on 0844 338 5000, or by visiting the Hippodrome’s website.

Finally, if you’re a user of the Hippodrome’s First Night scheme for 16-23 year olds, we’d love to hear your thoughts. The Hippodrome’s current First Night Bloggers have designed this quick survey to find out how you use the scheme and what shows you’d like to see more of, to help the Hippodrome to keep making things even better for you. If you have the time, please take a moment to fill it out. Thanks for your help!