Omid Djalili soars to the rooftops as Tevye, the poor Dairyman, in Fiddler on the Roof. He gives a thrilling star turn that (almost) erases memories of Topol in this rousing new stage version of one of the all-time great stage musicals. Of course, Fiddler on the Roof is a very special musical in that it mixes joyous Jewish humour and lively song and dance with the poignant story of a group of people who are pushed out of their homes by the pogroms organised by the Russians. With book by Joseph Stein, Music by Jerry Bock and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, it has an excellent score, a book to relate to and a story to set your heart beating.
‘Fiddler on the Roof’ is based on Sholem Aleichem’s stories. It takes place in 1905 in a shetl, (Yiddish for ‘little town’) called Anatekva, in Russia. The opening scene shows people arriving from another town which they have been forced to leave. Amongst them is Tevye (Omid Djalili), a poor dairy man who lives with his wife, Golde (Tracy-Ann Oberman) and five daughters. The musical shows how Tevye and Golde want to get their older daughters married, but the three girls fall in love and don’t want their parents to choose their husbands. They have to convince their parents that they have made the right choice. Tevye talks to God, asking why He can’t help them.
Fiddler explores the plight of the community of Antekva – their hardships and persecution by Russian soldiers. It also has three sub-plots about the growing love between the eldest daughter Tseitel (Simbi Akande) and the tailor Motel (Jos Slovick) and Hodel (Emma Kingston) and her love for Perchik (Louis Maskell), a politically-minded student and the banned love between Chava (Rose Shalloo) and the non-Jewish Russian soldier Fyedka (Luke Featherstone).
The impressive set design begins with a bare stage and then members of the cast arrive from the back of the stage and slowly move forwards, bringing on tables and boxes to sit on. Each one carries a piece of luggage. Director Daniel Evans provides wonderful visual pictures. Well-designed lighting, which shows very clearly the different focus for each scene, including one where the ghosts of dead relatives appear and speak to Tevye and his wife, and back projections at the end bring the little Jewish community to life and make the audience realise that we still have immigrants on the move today. The whole show is enhanced by the lively choreography of Alistair David who has the actors performing a variety of styles.
The Musicality of the piece is sublime. There is real pathos in the voices of the cast as they sing about their little town, Anatekva and a rousing beat to the song, Tradition. A lot rests on the shrugging shoulders of the main character Djalili who gives us a completely rounded Tevye. Not a wonderful singer or dancer, but what makes up for this is Djalili’s amazing stage presence. Accepting tradition as the mainstay of his own life and the people around him, nevertheless he wants what is best for his daughters and is so moved by his daughters’ love for their partners that he feels forced to ask his wife – after 25 years of marriage – Do you love me? He has a difficult wife to contend with and he is more than adequately served by a fantastic portrayal by Tracy-Ann Oberman. She excels here in the part of a traditional wife, who, like her husband, must confront the difficulties of living a life of hardship. When the couple are forced by the Russian militia to leave their home, we see them draw closer together and Djalili and Oberman have such a good chemistry that it is completely believable.
A story that grips you, music which moves you and a perfect cast this will surely follow other Chichester musicals and go to the West End.
Review by Carlie Newman.
Playing until 2 September 2017 at Chichester Festival Theatre, Oaklands Park, Chichester, West Sussex, PO19 6AP. Box Office: 01243 781312, cft.org.uk