Review: Fiddler On The Roof (Capitol Theatre)

fiddlerjeffbusbyVenue: Capitol Theatre (Sydney NSW), Mar 24 – May 6, 2016
Music: Jerry Brock
Lyrics: Sheldon Harnick
Book: Joseph Stein
Director: Roger Hodgman
Cast: Blake Bowden, Sara Grenfell, Glen Hogstrom, Andrew Kroenert, Lior, Mark Mitchell, Jensen Overend, Anthony Pepe, Annie Stanford, Monica Swayne, Derek Taylor, Sigrid Thornton, Jessica Vickers, Anthony Warlow, Nicki Wendt, David Whitney, Teagan Wouters
Images by Jeff Busby

Theatre review
Stories of diaspora never seem to lose their relevance. Fiddler On The Roof is over 50 years of age, but its story of religious persecution consists of an authenticity that every generation will find poignant. As the problem of refugees escalates and takes over our airwaves, themes in the musical hold a deep resonance that relate directly to big issues of the day that all of us are made to face. Tevye and his family are charming folk that, although culturally different from contemporary Australians, endear to us with familiar and admirable qualities, representing the best of our shared humanity. Tevye is an honourable and humble man, with little to his name except for a loving family, and the respect of his community. The songs are similarly heart-warming, with an integrity found in its folk and traditional style, that sets it apart from the tried, tested and very tired styles of music in many other shows of the Broadway genre.

Anthony Warlow’s performance as Tevye is truly remarkable. From physicality and voice, to humour and spirit, Warlow is exemplary on the stage, with impressive star power coupled with indisputable talent, eclipsing every other element of this production. He is a grand presence who is able to convey subtleties. He entertains but keeps us conscious of the higher stakes at play. His generosity extends not only to his audience, but also to his colleagues, whom he offers strong support for their individual shining moments. Monica Swayne and Blake Bowden play Hodel and Perchik, one of the story’s romantic couples, with beautiful chemistry and moving passion. Swayne’s solo rendition of “Far From The Home I Love” is a tearjerker executed without overblown sentimentality, only pristine honesty accompanying a sensational voice able to portray a sublime vulnerability in spite of its palpable strength.

The show is at its best when scenes are tender, deep and meaningful. Sequences of exuberance are less consistent, with many of its early moments seeming to lack energy and spontaneity. Fortunately Act II, although shorter in length, becomes much more dramatically engaging, leading to a heartbreaking conclusion orchestrated with outstanding sensitivity and elegance. It is not often that a big musical touches us beyond the superficial, but the message of peace that it conveys from beginning to end, in different guises, speaks profoundly, and we can only respond accordingly.