Theatre review: Fiddler On The Roof, Edinburgh

Heartfelt performance: Paul Michael Glaser as Tevye
Heartfelt performance: Paul Michael Glaser as Tevye
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The history of theatre is full of great and legendary musicals, from Singing In The Rain to Carousel.

Fiddler On The Roof - Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

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Yet I’m not sure there’s any other piece of musical theatre that combines song and narrative so perfectly as Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick’s great 1964 musical Fiddler On The Roof, now revived by the Edinburgh-based Music & Lyrics Company – with the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton – in this warm, eloquent touring production starring Paul Michael Glaser as the central character, Tevye the milkman.

The secret of the show’s musical energy lies in the powerful link between the play’s historic setting, in a little Jewish shtetl in western Russia in 1905, when antisemitic pogroms are about to drive the people west into all the horrors of the 20th century – and the urgent need for people caught up in this history to preserve their music and culture; it’s as if every note of Jerry Bock’s great score acts both as an elegy for a lost world, and as a tribute to the survival of European Jewish culture. And in Craig Horwood’s strong, intimate and inventive production, the fact that every member of the 19-strong ensemble also acts as a musician and dancer, constantly moving, instrument in hand, adds another layer of feeling for a world in which people’s hands were never still, and everyone had physical work to do, even as they sang, talked and fell in love.

Paul Michael Glaser is not a great singer, but his performance as Tevye is heartfelt and moving almost beyond words. And he is surrounded by a supporting cast who glow with energy and commitment, in a production that is warm and domestic rather than laden with symbolism, but that nonetheless gives this great story a powerful, unforgettable human voice.