Review – Fiddler on the Roof

Oct 2 2013 | By More

★★★★☆   Resonates through the years

Festival Theatre: Tue 1 – Sat 5 October 2013
Review by Hugh Simpson

High in energy and ingeniously presented, Music and Lyrics Limited’s revival of Fiddler on the Roof at the Festival Theatre proves a resounding success for the Edinburgh-based company’s touring co-production with Southampton’s Mayflower Theatre.

The destruction of the old way of life in a shtetl in what, today, is Ukraine still seems a peculiar topic for a musical, even after all these years. However, the story of how the milkman Tevye deals with the desires of his daughters to choose their own futures, mirrored by the encroaching of the outside world in the years before the Russian Revolution, is one that continues to resonate.

Paul Michael Glaser as Tevye keeps the energy levels high. Photo © Tristram Kenton

Paul Michael Glaser as Tevye keeps the energy levels high. Pic Tristram Kenton

Joseph Stein, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick’s original has been well served on this occasion by director and choreographer Craig Revel Horwood, best known as the acid-tongued judge from television’s Strictly Come Dancing.

Anyone who saw Horwood’s recent Strictly Confidential stage show will not be surprised to see performers singing, dancing and playing an instrument simultaneously; here this idea is taken to surprising levels.

Every member of the ensemble also provides musical backing, thanks to Sarah Travis’s ingenious orchestration; if you have ever wanted to see someone dancing while playing the cello or bassoon, here is your chance. This works extremely well. If it takes away a little from the pathos of some of the songs on occasion, it certainly adds to the energy and spectacle.

For a large proportion of the audience, former Starsky and Hutch star Paul Michael Glaser as Tevye is the real attraction, and he certainly does not disappoint. The difficult task of holding the story together while interacting with the audience is one that he fulfils superbly thanks to excellent comic timing.

Simultaneously funny and touching

It is now over 40 years since Glaser played the young revolutionary Perchik in the film version, but there is no need to make any allowances for his age as he keeps the energy levels high throughout.

N Salvage (Rabbi), P Kissaun (Lazar) PM Glaser (Tevye) E ODwyer (Mordcha). Pic Tristram Kenton

Perhaps he is not the greatest singer technically, but he more than makes up for this through sheer magnetism. He really comes into his own in the second act, particularly in the duet Do You Love Me? with his wife Golde (Karen Mann, in another beautifully judged performance).

This is simultaneously funny and touching, which epitomises his overall performance. As the second act progresses, the indignities and hardships suffered by the Jewish community of Anatevka are borne by the everyman Tevye with a mixture of suppressed anger, humour and almost superhuman forbearance that is magnificently evoked by Glaser.

In a consistently good supporting cast, Emily O’Keeffe shines as Tevye’s eldest daughter Tzeitel, while Susannah Van Den Berg is excellent as the ghostly Fruma-Sarah in a splendidly realised dream sequence. There is so much onstage competition that Jennifer Douglas could be eclipsed as the fiddler of the title, but manages to set herself apart through musical skill and stage presence.

The high-energy dance numbers, as the cast multi-task around Diego Pitarch’s versatile set, provide a real feelgood factor – perhaps ultimately too much, as the real emotional power of a work which reflects so many of the tragedies of the last century is slightly dissipated. However, being too enjoyable is not really much of a criticism in a musical, particularly one with such an excellent central performance.

Running time 3 hrs
Run ends Saturday 5 October 2013, then touring
Daily 7.30 pm, (Thurs, Sat matinee 2.30 pm)
Festival Theatre, 13/29 Nicolson Street, Edinburgh EH8 9FT

This tour has ended. But the Menier Chocolate Factory production directed by Trevor Nunn is transferring to The Playhouse Theatre, London in March 2019.  Click here for details.

You can buy the music for the musical from Amazon. Click for details:


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Comments (4)

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  1. Suzanne Senior says:

    I saw this production last night and really enjoyed it. As one of the “Starsky and Hutch” generation,for me, the main draw was Paul Michael Glaser as Tevye. However, the production contained so much more. I was particularly impressed by the device of having all the performers play their instruments on stage. It really added to the excitement of the production as took the idea of the klezmir band to new levels.

    I agree with the review that PMG wasn’t the best singer, and, indeed, neither were some of the others. However, sometimes it isn’t necessary as characterisation is more important. After all, it never stopped Rex Harrison in “My Fair Lady”! He really created the part, though. I was inevitably comparing him with Topol in the film, and he did seem a little less angry, and more likeable. I thought he was especially moving in the scenes when he ignored his youngest daughter after she got together with the non-Jew.