Tradition. Fiddler on the Roof is now over fifty years old and one of the classic traditional musical productions. A large number of attendees will be familiar with the title, perhaps a few numbers, but some may be unfamiliar with the actual narrative. Tonight Edinburgh Music Theatre deliver us the story of Tevye and his family’s hardships, and the perseverance with which they face them.
Jewish humour is paradoxical – self-hating, yet often self-praising, devoutly faithful but often with God as the target. Alex Kantor’s interpretation of milkman Tevye is in line with the script, with a rigid grasp on which lines to deliver with sarcasm to generate humour. He carries each scene, knowing where to burst out the jokes, but also when to deliver with heartfelt pathos. The value of tradition and the necessity of change – these things plague Tevye. The writing of Joseph Stein has started to feel stale, though. It grows in wit as the show progresses, but Fiddler’s age doesn’t help.
Performances tonight are a mixed bag. Kantor relishes the moments of satire in Tevye’s conversations with God. He balances humour with grotesque realness incredibly. Other characters, in particular the Russians, aren’t conveyed with the menace needed to instil a sense of dread in the audience. At no point do the townspeople genuine feel at threat.
Vocally, there is a clear divide within the cast, particularly when it comes to accents. A fair few performers strain their vocals but do manage to maintain an accent. Others have wonderful vocals but lose it with a sudden transition from Yiddish to the Queen’s English.
Whilst Fiddler is renowned for its number If I Were A Rich Man, here it is Sunrise, Sunset and Matchmaker, Matchmaker which command attention instead. Part of the reason for this is both the orchestra and George Cort’s lighting. Between the titular Fiddler and the live performances, instruments are at the core of this production.
In truth, there are no bad performances. It is just that some awkward reads from ensemble performers, and slips in line deliveries and timing, impede momentum. Fiddler on the Roof feels like an aged musical, but it is nevertheless a classic, one which EMT mainly deliver with gusto, but with an occasional sense of “going through the motions”.