Fiddler on the Roof

Civic Theatre, cnr of Queen Street & Wellesley Street West, Auckland

06/05/2007 - 20/05/2007

Westpac St James, Wellington

16/04/2007 - 29/04/2007

Production Details

by Joseph Stein, Sheldon Harnick, and Jerry Bock
directed by Sammy Dallas Bayes

produced by Tim Lawson
lighting design by Gavan Swift
set design by Desmond Digby

In what is a huge theatrical coup, Wellington audiences will have a once in a lifetime opportunity to see the legendary Topol perform the role that made him an international household name when he performs his multi award winning portrayal of Tevye at the Westpac St James Theatre.

This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the legendary Topol perform the starring role that made him a household name around the world.

Fiddler on the Roof  is one of the longest running musicals in Broadway history, and features much-loved songs including Sunrise Sunset, If I Were A Rich Man and Matchmaker. The season will open at with a special preview showing on Sunday 15th April at 5pm and the official opening night is Monday 16th April at 7.30pm. This strictly limited season must end Sunday 29th April.

Topol won a Golden Globe Award and Oscar nomination for his role in the movie. The Broadway production of Fiddler on the Roof won 9 Tony Awards as well Olivier Awards for Best Musical, Best Book, Best Score and Lyrics and Best Actor for Topol.

Topol, who won a Golden Globe award and Oscar nomination for his role in the movie, is joined on stage by a stellar cast of 35 of Australia’s best actors, singers and dancers including Judith Roberts and Barry Crocker. 

Topol . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  Tevye
Judith Roberts . . . . . . . . . . . .  Golde
Melle Stewart . . . . . . . . . . . . .  Tzeitel
Octavia Barron Martin . . . . .   Hodel
Emily Green . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  Chava
Nick Christo . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  Motel
Adam Lubicz. . . . . . . . . . . . . .  Perchik
Tim Maddren . . . . . . . . . . . . .  Fyedka
Anne Phelan . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  Yente
Barry Crocker AM . . . . . . . . . . Lazar Wolfe
DJ Foster . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . The Constable
Garry Scale . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Mordcha
Warren Kermond . . . . . . . . . .  Rabbi
Hugo Chiarella . . . . . . . . . . . . . Mendel
Rod Waterworth . . . . . . . . . . . .Fiddler
Tony Geappen . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Avram
Garry Ginivan . . . .Grandma Tzeitel / Nachum (Wellington)
Flip Simmons . . . . Grandma Tzeitel / Nachum (Auckland)
Sheridan Harbridge . . . . . . . . . Fruma-Sarah
Emma Hawthorne . . . . . . . . . . Bielke
Erin James. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Shprintze
Peter McAllum . . . . . . . . . . . . . Label
James Lee. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  Schmeril
Tom Lambert . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Shloime
Paul Watson. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  Yussel
David Hooley . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Yakov
Daniel Slater . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  Vladimir (Wellington)
Ian Knowles . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Vladimir (Auckland)
Andrew Dolejsi. . . . . . . . . . . . . Sasha
Travis Khan . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  Boris
Beth Daly . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  Shandel
Monique Montez. . . . . . . . . . .  Sarah
Jennifer White . . . . . . . . . . . .   Mirala
Elisha Chin. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  Anya
Sheridan Harbridge . . . . . . . . . Rivka
Markham Gannon . . . . . . . . . .  Dance Captain / Swing

Theatre , Musical ,

3 hours incl. interval

Magnificent show with universal appeal

Review by Kate Ward-Smythe 09th May 2007

A capacity crowd is on their feet as the deserving company of producer Tim Lawson’s Fiddler on the Roof, (the musical about Tevye, a dairyman, and his family in a small Jewish village in Russia in 1905); take their long curtain call on opening night.

In a world full of noise, fast cars and confusing technology, it is refreshing to contemplate values, love, riches, tradition, and change, in a simple context. Devoid of smoke and mirrors, tricks and special effects, Fiddler on the Roof is a rare opportunity to enjoy excellent work from a superb cast of 35, accompanied by a live orchestra. Steeped in tradition in terms of content and presentation, Fiddler on the Roof‘s themes are all the clearer, delivered through uncomplicated song and conversation.

Set on the eve of Europe’s most infamous crime against humanity, Fiddler on the Roof also has a foreboding edge, which creeps in towards the end of the first half, and by the dark end, the unknown fate of the displaced, evicted families of Anatevka, further mark the work as a significant statement on the prejudice and bigotry that continue to plague humankind now as they did then.

Fiddler on the Roof is further relevant in that it deals with the domestic, day to day, fundamental issues of parenting: walking that delicate balance between teaching what you know, while at the same time listening ro, and accepting the new boundaries and ideas of your off-spring.

The success of this production is in the casting of 35 extremely good storytellers. Every member of this strong, disciplined and very mature ensemble, gives a committed performance, in terms of song, movement, but most importantly, in terms of acting out the drama and emotion of Fiddler on the Roof. Even though stern unflinching patriarchal rules, and unquestioning faith in God, are foreign concepts to me personally, I was drawn into the dilemmas faced by Tevye.

The script is full of gems that are completely out of step with contemporary, so called enlightened modern society, such as "Why does a girl need to read?" and "Even the worst husband in the world is better than no husband". At the top of the show I thought I would feel increasingly removed and detached from the story, but I developed empathy for the villagers, old and young, as they were forced to embrace change as the only constant.

As Tevye regularly turns to God or his unique interpretation of "the good book" for guidance, he delivers simple truisms, such as "on the other hand, our old ways were once new." Later (in response to the call for "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth"), he observes that that would leave the whole world "blind and toothless."

There is no doubt the night belongs to impressive Broadway star Chaim Topol, who is famous for his rendition of Tevye on screen and stage. His mana is still intact, as he captures the cost of trying to reconcile his faith with his big warm heart, with a voice that is deep and resonant one minute, then light and comic the next. Though when he sings, the vocal chords occasionally sound weary, and pitch is an issue. How sad that, between them, Topol and Judith Roberts (who is otherwise excellent as Golde) manage to butcher ‘Sunrise Sunset’ and the final notes in ‘Do You Love Me?’.

However, a talented cast ably supports Topol. Highlights include the ensemble work of Tevye’s five daughters (including NZ ring-in, Shortland Street actress Emily Robins, who stepped in to play Bielke, as the previous actress needed to return to Australia), and the strong individual performances and singing of the older 3 daughters (played by Melle Stewart, Octavia Barron Martin and Emily Green); the rich, throaty voice and presence of Anne Phelan as Yente; the believable passion of Adam Lubicz as Perchik; the delightful warmth of Barry Crocker as Lazar Wolfe; the silent pain DJ Foster brings to role of the Constable and the well pitched performances of Tim Maddren as Fyedka and Nick Christo as Motel.

The whole company shines in the opening song, ‘Tradition’, and again in the wedding scene, which is fun, lively, dramatic, well choreographed and well directed, providing the perfect pivotal end to the first half.

Director Sammy Dallas Bayes sets a good pace for the night, considering the show’s likely market. My only complaint is the on-going appearance of the annoying miming fiddler throughout the show. Once was enough for me.

While I eagerly anticipated the full Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, the 15 players in the pit, in particular the strings, sound sublime, their accompaniment evocative and sweet, on the ballads especially. It is a rare treat to hear live accompaniment done so well, and thanks to sound design and operation by Richard Baker and the Oceania Audio team, the crispness and vitality of the orchestra (and voices) loses nothing through amplification.

In terms of other production values, lighting by Gavan Swift is clean and efficient, with actors thrown into immaculately timed white spotlight for significant soliloquies, and the chorus often in appropriate sepia. The set design by Desmond Digby is a disappointment, with painted canvasses providing a series of uninspiring backdrops. Attempts at a semi-abstract approach on the pros-arch, adds little to the frame. However, the family hut and town alehouse are functional and versatile.

I do hope this production is well patronised, as it is enduring and relevant. Although opening night was attended by a predominantly older white demographic, I was pleased to see family groups dotting the Civic foyer.  While younger musical theatre lovers might label Fiddler on the Roof "old school" at first glance, this magnificent show does have universal appeal. If you have 3 hours to dedicate to its charm, head to the Civic.
For more production details, click on the title at the top of this review. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.  


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The milkman still delivers

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 17th Apr 2007

A standing ovation greeted Topol at the end of the marathon musical of which he has been the star since 1967. The applause wasn’t for endurance but for a beautifully structured performance that is fresh and strong and is supported by his fine speaking voice and his sly comedy as Tevye chats to God, and his powerful singing.

Fiddler on the Roof is the last of the great musicals of the period from the mid-1930s to the mid-60s when Broadway and an amazing group of great composers (with the exception of Cole Porter all Jewish) further enhanced a unique theatrical genre that reflected the dynamism, optimism, and joie de vivre of a wealthy, triumphant nation.

Fiddler opened in 1964 and ran for a record-breaking 3,242 performances, and has since been performed all over the world in theatres, school halls, opera houses, and, of course, on film.

Its appeal is universal and one can sense its first audiences finding comfort, as the Vietnam War and the dark side of the 60s swept the nation and the world, in the song Tradition. One can also see the reaffirmation of belief in the promise of America as Tevye, the milkman hero, finally bows to the inevitable and leaves his beloved village of Anatevka and the Tsar’s Cossacks and the pogroms for the United States.

The world hasn’t become a better place since 1964, so the plot of Fiddler, adapted from the short stories of Sholom Aleichem, about Tevye and his daughters and the persecution of the villagers, transcends the Jewish/American overtones that accompany it because it is a Broadway musical play.

The current production is very traditional, theatrically speaking, with old fashioned tabs flying in and out and with backdrops that could be straight out of a pantomime. However, the large cast fill the stage with colour and energy and they distract us from some pretty ordinary lyrics in most of the songs.

They are excellent performances from the daughters, particularly Melle Stewart at Tevye’s eldest, Tzeitel.

The villagers are nicely differentiated in age and character, though why the Constable should appear in one scene in a costume suggesting that of a Nazi is either an unfortunate mistake or a totally unnecessary case of labouring a historical point.

Nevertheless, it is an entertaining night out at the theatre with a star performance that lives up to its reputation.


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Touching us all

Review by John Smythe 17th Apr 2007

When I first saw this musical adaptation of Sholom Aleicham’s short story Tevye’s Daughters – longer ago than the 25 years Tevye and Golde have been married! – it was a classic tale from Tsarist Russia that captured the zeitgeist of social change in the western world.

On the one hand, the liberation of women and a resurgence of socialist idealism resonated strongly with baby boomers in the late 1960s. On the other hand (as Tevye, the beleaguered milkman, husband and father of five daughters, would say) the breakdown of traditions and conventional social orders can be hard to grapple with.

On the other hand, failure to change leads to the entrenchment of corrupt political powers that resort to violence to maintain the status quo. On the other hand being rich could allow you to rise above all that. On the other hand could it be true, as the young activists suggest, that money is the most corrupt force? For Tevye, the many hands he needs to weigh up the pros and cons do not make light work of his very human struggle to do what he finally feels, deep down, is right.

Now, more than 40 years on from its Broadway debut, Fiddler On The Roof speaks to a world thrown backwards into the appalling thrall of tribal, political and religious intolerance all over the globe. While its specific focus is on Jewish peasants in ‘Anatevka’ in the early 20th century who struggle to survive day to day only to be rendered homeless yet again, it resounds as a lament to dispossessed minority groups and refugees anywhere and everywhere.

"Maybe this is why we always wear our hats," shrugs Tevye. The show is liberally riddled with wry Jewish humour, at once insightful and painful in its perception of human anguish. And joy. The moments of joy are all the more valued for being so rare. Indeed the fiddler himself stands, or crouches, as a metaphor for the precarious position of anyone seeking the equilibrium we tend to equate with happiness. He alternately encourages us to look on the bright side and warns us not to be too cocky.

Anchoring this Australasian tour (of a production which opened in Melbourne in 1998 and has toured extensively since), is Topol’s beautifully modulated, world-weary but eye-sparkling Tevye. He sets the tone for an intimate sharing of the very real lives within his family and the wider – but still very small – community, drawing us into his thoughts and feelings with effortless skill, commanding our empathy even when we disagree with his intransigence.

This undemonstrative, deep-centred truth also imbues his family: Judith Roberts (Golde), Melle Stewart (Tzietel, the oldest daughter), Octavia Barron Martin (Hodel), Emily Green (Chava), Emma Hawthorne (Bielke) and Erin James (Shpintze). They cohere splendidly as a family unit and each stamps individuality on their role without ever resorting to the harsh declamatory style so beloved of many American musicals (including previous productions of this one, as I recall).

Likewise the young men are centred and true: Nick Christo as the hard-working tailor, Motel; Adam Lubick as the idealistic and progressive-thinking tutor, Perchik; Tim Maddren as literature-loving Fyedka. All of these principles sing as naturally as they speak, none of them have their singing teachers sitting on their shoulders making them over-conscious of their technique, and credit for this must go to the director Sammy Dallas Bayes and musical director Peter Casey.

It has to be added that head microphones are key to achieving this level of intimacy. On the other hand the way they over-emphasise head resonance, when worn high on the forehead, brings a hazy, almost metallic timbre to the singing that takes a bit of getting used to. On the other hand telephonists’ mics alongside the cheeks would be visually wrong, despite producing a purer sound.

Anne Phelan verges on the demonstrative as Yente, the matchmaker, but finds heartfelt moments of pathos too. Barry Crocker is laid back yet strong when it counts as Lazar Wolfe, the widowed butcher who wants to marry Tzeitel. DJ Foster brings a disturbing menace to the Constable, who claims to be sorry for what is happening to the people he grew up with while allowing himself to be an instrument by which the pogroms are made to happen.

Peter McCallum returns to NZ in the role of Label, the innkeeper. Garry Ginivan and Sheridan Harbridge excel in the cameo roles of Grandma Tzeitel (Golde’s dead mother) and Fruma-Sarah (Lazar’s dead wife) in the bizarre dream sequence Tevye evokes by way of getting Golde to accept Tzeitel will not marry Lazar. And Rod Waterworth is ubiquitous as the Fiddler.

The ensemble singing and dancing (choreographer, Tanya Mitford) are all the more effective for arising out of the story rather than looking like big stage numbers in a glossy musical. The families at prayer, the testosterone-rich pub scene, the social upheavals at the wedding – when Perchik gets men and women dancing together instead of with each other to the dismay of the black-clad clerics; then the Russian men invade to break up the party – the gossip-mongering street scene and the final evacuation are all memorably staged.

Ross Turner’s scenic design emphasises the temporary nature of settled life by having houses adrift in a landscape that changes colour (lighting design, Gavan Swift). Desmond Digby’s costume designs are authentic and detailed, and suitably extraordinary in the ‘dream’ scene.

The Vector Wellington Orchestra (with Michael Nicholas Williams as assistant musical director) honours the richness and subtleties of Jerry Bock’s music. And the sound design (Oceania Audio) ensures that the potency and word-play of Joseph Stein’s text and Sheldon Harnick’s lyrics are always clear.

The programme says Sammy Dallas Bayes has reproduced the original direction of Jerome Robbins. In so doing he and his team have staged a Fiddler On The Roof that is wonderfully true to its Russian roots while touching us all as family and community members and as citizens of a troubled world.


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