Book: Joseph Stein
Music: Jerry Bock
Lyrics: Sheldon Harnick
Director: Gemma Bodinetz
Reviewer: Tate James
The Everyman Theatre is now home to the 14 actors of the new Everyman Company, who are breaking tradition at the prestigious venue with a musical offering in the form of a new production of Fiddler on the Roof. It seems an alarmingly relevant choice for today’s audiences who only have to turn on the news to see minority groups forced out of their homes.
Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick’s 1964 musical focuses on the traditional Jewish values of family life in the Russian settlement of Anatevka, as poor Tevye and his wife, Golde, raise their five daughters in the hope of marrying them well, with the help of the Matchmaker. As the outside world threatens to upset the traditions of their small town, the young daughters seek to choose their own husbands, without the guidance of their parents, and each find a new beau more radical and controversial than the last. Tevye must choose between the feelings of the family he has raised and the beliefs he has been raised with, eventually succumbing to a newer way of thinking. “Weren’t our old laws once new too?” he asks.
Patrick Brennan leads the company with ease and passion, capturing Tevye’s predicament and spirit while savouring every slither of comedy in Joseph Stein’s incredibly witty book. At his side, Melanie La Barrie is a refreshing Golde, with humour and heart in abundance as she delivers the most honest performance of the night. Her musical theatre background is her greatest asset as she masters acting through song, a par above her co-stars. Their duet of Do You Love Me? is sincere and enchanting.
Laura Dos Santos, Emily Hughes and Zelina Rebeiro are charming in their roles as daughters Tzeitl, Hodel and Chava; and, indeed, the whole cast work hard in their efforts to capture the tone of Anatevka.
Rising Musical Director George Francis has re-orchestrated the classic score to suit the concise and convincing four-piece band, which brilliantly creates a small-town folk sound and compliments the intimate feel of this production. Director Gemma Bodinetz has echoed this in her focus on the family storyline, simplifying the political aspect of the show to the battle between religious beliefs and emotion. It seems odd in such an understated production that the choreography by Tom Jackson Greaves is so eccentric and unnecessary. Though the wedding scene is brilliantly-staged, many of the other musical numbers become full routines with superfluous props and quasi-contemporary dance breaks when a much simpler staging from a place of truth and honesty would have sufficed.
The cast of actors have been hand selected from across the country and, though they act brilliantly, it is a risky manoeuvre to expose them so obviously when their dance and vocal abilities as individuals are not up to sustaining such a large musical piece consistently across the ensemble. It would be interesting to see this production again in June once the actors are more comfortable as musical theatre performers.
True to form, the Everyman is breaking new ground with their rep company, however shaky the start, and the upcoming more traditional plays hold much promise as the 14 talented actors grow closer as a unit. To quote Tevye, “Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as a fiddler on the roof”.
Runs until 11 March 2017, before returning in Rep in June. | Image: Stephen Vaughan