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Fiddler on the Roof (Susan Elkin reviews)

book by Joseph Stein music by Jerry Bock and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick
society/company: West Wickham Operatic Society
performance date: 18 Nov 2016
venue: Churchill Theatre, Bromley

It’s a refreshing treat to see Tevye played as anything other than an imitation of Topol who made the part his own for so long on stage worldwide and in the 1971 film. In this imaginative production, Kevin Gauntlett, who has a rather magnificent bass singing voice, creates a convincing individualised, fully rounded personality for musical theatre’s most famous Jewish milkman. And his acting is very natural and convincing.

Fiddler on the Roof is a long way from the froth of much standard musical theatre fare. In amongst the Jewish jokes and all that fabulous Klesmer-style music with its minor keys and syncopated accelerating rhythms it deals with two very serious topics: the rejection of traditional culture by a younger generation and the eviction of Jews from Russian villages in the years before the Revolution. And that’s its strength. It is deeply moving as well as entertaining.

There is a lot of talent in this company, Tracy Prizeman as Golda plays beautifully off Kevin Gauntlett and she has a striking old-fashioned claret contralto singing voice which works beautifully here as she creates a personality who (usually) hides her real feelings behing gruff brusqueness. There’s some lovely singing form Amy Ghinn as Hodel and Sophie-Rose Jackson as Chava too.

It’s a show which works perfectly for a non-professional company because you can use a large cast for the crowd scenes as director Terry Gauntlett does here to fine effect. A wide range of ages, including a number of children, mean that it really does look like a village. And of course, apart from Teyve and Golda it’s a show with lots of quite small roles so there’s plenty of opportunity. The WWOS version gives us, for example Richard Rook as a decent but not appealing Lazar Wolf, Lee Durnford as the impoverished tailor, Motel and Paul Mount as a delightfully bearded Rabbi. The ensemble set pieces such as Tevye’s imagined dream, the drinking scene and the wedding are vibrant and energetic.

Caroline Daniel and her thirteen-piece band do a fine job in the pit bringing out masses of orchestral colour. One or two blips in the cohesion between singers and orchestra were quickly popped back on track at the performance I saw. Marvin Duenger is terrific as the titular fiddler frequently appearing onstage like a ghostly presence whose clear music represents Tevye’s thoughts.

My only quibble with this otherwise excellent show is that it is a tad too long. One or two numbers which are often cut are included and they really don’t add much but take the running time up to a rather excessive three hours. But it’s a minor reservation.

This was my first WWOS show. It certainly won’t be the last.

First published by Sardines

Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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