Time and Tradition – Fiddler on the Roof


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.


New Season Launch – Autumn and Winter at the Birmingham Hippodrome


After the fabulous free theatre we’ve enjoyed over the last few weeks across Birmingham’s city centre, the summer may finally be over, but the fun is far from it! The Birmingham Hippodrome has just announced a new season packed full of all sorts of exciting shows to brighten up the cold, dark winter days!


18389_sFrom October through to Spring next year, you’ll be able to enjoy a range of smash-hit musicals, National Theatre shows on tour, contemporary dance, world-class opera and ballet from the Birmingham Royal Ballet and the Welsh National Opera, and of course, the return of the world’s biggest pantomime this Christmas.

The new season kicks off next month with the Birmingham Royal Ballet’s ‘Still Life’ at the Penguin Café, E=MC² and Tombeaux (3-5 October) and later The Sleeping Beauty, (8-12 October) followed by the National Theatre’s War Horse (16 October – 9 November). If you want to get yourself some War Horse tickets, act fast, since the show is almost sold out already!


Alongside the War Horse run, two additional special events will be taking place: Only Remembered (Friday 8th November), a concert featuring live readings from the original War Horse novel by its author Michael Morpurgo and music from John Tams and Barry Coope, and a War Horse-themed sleepover (Friday 25th October) that will see the Patrick Centre transformed into World War I-style trenches.


Towards the end of the month, there will be more opportunities to experience free outdoor shows in Birmingham. Make sure you wrap up warm for Illuminate! (25-27 October) a three-day light spectacular featuring interactive street projections from Shanghai, dance performances and The Lanterns of Terracotta Warriors, an extraordinary exhibition originally created for the Beijing Olympics.


Throughout November, the Welsh National Opera will present Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca (12 & 16 November) and Gaetano Donizetti’s new Tudors series: Anna Bolena (13 November), Maria Stuarda (14 November) and Roberto Devereux (15 November). 


As Christmas approaches, the Hippodrome will be helping you to get into the festive spirit with a Birmingham Royal Ballet production of The Nutcracker (22 November – 12 December), as well as its excellent, all-star pantomime Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (19 December – 2 February). This year’s panto will star Gok Wan, Stephanie Beacham, Gary Wilmot, John Partridge and winner of the BBC’s Over the Rainbow series Danielle Hope.


February is a great month to catch some ballet at the Hippodrome, with two more productions from the Birmingham Royal Ballet (Three of a Kind from 19-22 February and The Prince of the Pagodas from 25 February – 1 March), as well as Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake (5-15 February).


Meanwhile, March is the month for music, with three WNO operas and two exciting musicals.  The Welsh National Opera will present Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata (4 & 8 March) as well as two brand new productions, Manon Lescaut (5 & 7 March) and Boulevard Solitude (6 March). From 11-15 March, award-winning producers Music & Lyrics will be presenting their take on Fiddler on the Roof, starring Paul Michael Glaser and, towards the end of the month, the theatre’s stage will be flooded with 12,000 litres of water every night as part of its Singin’ in the Rain performances (18 March – 5 April), starring Maxwell Caulfield and Faye Tozer.


In April, Wet, Wet, Wet frontman Marti Pellow will star in Evita (8-19 April), while a brand new musical based on the classic TV series Happy Days will star Sugababes’ Heidi Range (22-26 April). The Happy Days musical is written by the series’ creator Gary Marshall, with creative consultancy from Henry Winkler, TV’s original “Fonz”.


May sees the return of the biennial International Dance Fest Birmingham, co-produced by the Hippodrome and DanceXchange. The festival will kick off with Sideways Rain (29-30 April) by Genevan contemporary dance company Alias, and will also include Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s M!longa  (23-24 May), international hip-hop festival Breakin’ Convention (20-21 May), a new adaptation of William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies by Matthew Bourne (14-17 May) and a performance from acclaimed ballerina Sylvie Guillem in 6,000 Miles Away (6-7 May). Bourne’s new production will feature young New Adventures dancers from the West Midlands as part of efforts to inspire a new generation to get involved in dance. 


As Spring leads on into summer, the National Theatre‘s five-star comedy feast, One Man, Two Guv’nors will arrive in Birmingham (26-31 May), providing an excellent opportunity to catch this highly-praised production if you missed it in London. One Man, Two Guv’nors is an adaptation of Carlo Goldoni’s classic 1743 comedy The Servant of Two Masters, reimagined in 1960s Brighton by Richard Bean.

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So it comes full circle back to summer. Next summer’s big musical show will be Wicked (9 July – 6 September). It may seem a long way to plan ahead, but tickets for Wicked are already being snapped up by audiences. In September, the Hippodrome will also be showing Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats. Check back here for details about when tickets go on sale.


To book tickets and for more information, visit the Birmingham Hippodrome website.

Happy watching!