I remember the film of the musical with Topol playing the role of Tevye but I hadn’t remembered that the young Paul Michael Glaser played Perchik. Now he is playing Tevye, head of a Jewish family who is determined to defend the customs and traditions of his community and culture. Each of his three oldest daughters in turn, moves further from the tradition of allowing the village matchmaker to arrange their marriages and Tevye’s conversations with his God reveal his confusion, hurt and frustration at his loss of control as head of the family.
The first act of the musical is long but flows through a clutch of memorable songs, from ‘Tradition’ in the prologue and continuing through ‘Matchmaker, Matchmaker’, ‘If I were a Rich Man’, the beautiful and tender ‘Sabbath Prayer’ and closing with ‘Sunrise, Sunset’. The musical arrangements are lovely and the cast not only sing but all play instruments to provide the musical narrative to the show.
The cast is immensely talented and cleverly directed and choreographed by Craig Revel Horwood of Strictly Come Dancing fame. Put aside the tv hype and you find a man who is very good at the day job. Special note must go to Tevye’s wife Golde, played and expressively sung by Karen Mann.
The second act of the musical is much bleaker. Tzeitel, the eldest daughter and her husband leave for Poland, Hodel follows her husband when he is arrested and sent to Siberia, Chava is cut off when she marries outside the faith and leaves with Fyedka. Finally the family’s home village of Anatevka is the target of a Tzarist pogrom. The villagers are evicted from their homes and Tevye, Golde and their remaining two girls set off to make the journey to America.
The stories on which this musical is based were written in 1894, but the theme of children challenging their parents, religious persecution and the search of the refugee for a home is ever present. How much more potent is it to consider this in the intimacy of the Festival Theatre than on the tv news?