I have seen “Fiddler on the Roof” on stage more than 20 times in my life, starting at about the age of seven. Since I was about 24, I saw the movie a few times. I have had, over the years, LPs, tapes and CDs of several different renditions. I can play a few of the tunes on the piano. I love it. That is my favourite show of all times.
I have heard the music so many times, my brain is so wired to it that I cannot stop myself from crying every time I hear it (that is why I don’t listen to it in the car – it is a traffic hazard). And it is not just a little bit of a teary eye, but full-blown sobbing. Shows my sensitive side, I guess, not something I am afraid of displaying in public. In the theater, I start while the orchestra is tuning. Watching a movie at home, it takes me about 10 minutes into it to begin.
I have never seen Topol as Tevye live. I just barely missed it one year, but I had to leave London and go home one day early as the ferries across the Channel were going on strike. Still, he is IMHO the best Tevye ever.
The second best was Mica Tatic, in Serbo-Croatian, in the Terazije theater in Belgrade. He was an unusual Tevye in that he is short and skinny. That actually made for a great effect, something that the usual big fat Tevyes cannot pull off. But he had SOOOOO much energy and was such a good actor, a famous comedian, and prety darn good singer as well. I loved the Belgrade show. It was staged only once a year due to expensive copyright. I believe they did it because the cast wanted to do it. At the end of the run, half of the actors were retired and only walked onto the stage that one time per year. It took quite a lot of make-up to make 50-year old actresses look young enough to be Tevye’s daughters. But they acted and sang their hearts out. They did it because they wanted to have fun for themselves. They gave a 200%.
The Belgrade Golde, Zeljka Reiner, was, imho, the absolutely best Golde ever. Again, an unusual casting – she was taller than Tevye, thin and absolutely gorgeous, with a strong and beautiful voice. She had just the right kind of spunk for the role. I’ve never seen anything quite like it ever since.
Another interesting rendition was at Enloe High School here in Raleigh a few years ago. It was much less amateurish than expected, and every member of the cast put so much energy into the role. And I think that is the key to a good “Fiddler” – loads of energy.
Which leads me to the real reason I am writing this. We went to see “Fiddler” at the Raleigh Memorial Auditorium last night. Paul Servino played Tevye and he was, by far, the worst Tevye in history. If I climbed up on the stage right there and then with no rehearsal, I would have done a better job. At least I know the lyrics. And I can sing, too. Servino does not seem to. And he was so nya-nya and wimpy and flaccid. Where’s the energy. “Tradition”, in the very beginning, was a shock. “If I Were A Rich Man” was a blasphemy. “Do You Love Me” was scary – I half-expected them both to just stop and apologize for not being able to hit the high notes.
Without a good Tevye, the whole show just has to be a flop. The three older daughters were superb, but they do not have enough stage-time to be able to carry the show. Their stuff was really good: “Matchmaker” was fantastic; “Far From The Home I Love” was beautiful until Sorvino ruined it in the end. The “daughters” segment of “Tradition” was the only good part of it. Why? It had energy. Those three girls have energy. They loved their roles. The rest of the cast was there to do a job. You cannot have a good “Fiddler” with that attitude.
Once the experience was ruined from the very start (and I did not shed a tear), everything else about the show grated my nerves. The choreography was excellent, but they could not find the dancers that could actually do it. Scenography was great for “Sabbath Prayer” – one wishes Topol was there to sing it. The “Dream” sequence had scenography fitting for “Showboat”, not “Fiddler”. Remember, it’s happening in Anatavka, little poor village somewhere behind God’s spine in Czarist Russia at the beginning of the 20th century. Such a village would have grey-brown wooden houses surrounded by gray-brown mud. Scenography for Fiddler has to be gray-brown and absolutelly minimalistic: a few items made of rough wood like a table and a chair and Tevye’s cart. Not three carts. Not seven tables. It was just far too flamboyant for the period. Not to mention that a couple of things were, quite inappropriatelly, stolen from the movie!
Still, we had a great dinner at Est!Est!Est! before the show, and had fun being smug critics afterwards, so, all in all, last night’s date with my wife was a brilliant success! So, let me finish with the painting entitled “No Fiddler on the Roof”: