Like literature, theatre and musical theatre have their classics. Recently, we had the opportunity to go and see Fiddler on the Roof at the Playhouse Theatre, London, so full of curiosity we had a look at the film too. SPOILER ALERT LEVEL 4/5
Fiddler on the Roof is a master’s painting, based on stories by Sholem Aleichem and adapted by Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick and Joseph Stein in 1964. It is a painting describing Jewish culture at the dawn of the XXe century, in Ukraine, that is astonishingly realist, funny and modern.
If the Tsar and his Christian influence are well implanted, the inhabitants of Anatevka, a village, are simply ignoring him as best as they can while living within their Traditions, as they are singing for the opening. Yet, if some characters are very close to these, when the traditions are challenged and changes occur, our main character, Tevye, always find a way to make these changes and novelties acceptable for his community which, deep down, is rather open to some new ideas (unless it involves the Tsar).
Romance is everywhere but in a world where tradition is arranged marriages, approved by the father and chosen by the matchmaker Yente. If some girls dream about it, others are terrified of these almost commercial agreements, quite unfair, as Tevye’s five girls are singing (Matchmaker, Matchmaker). He ends up agreeing, after some negotiations and cries, that two of his daughters would marry whoever they wanted, which is quite unusual. If he accepts this, because they’re still inside the community, however, he rejects his third daughter who marries in secret a Tsar’s soldier, and therefore a Christian. It is only when the couple reveals they’re also living the village that Tevye seems a bit more open to the idea… But there’s still a lot of work to accomplish there.
If the story ends up with the jew community giving up their village in an exode, and on a sombre note, there’s also, and thankfully, a lot of humour in this musical. Whether it is the dream sequence or Yente’s and Tevye’s punchlines, we always find breath in their sense of comedy. When it’s not laughter, we have dances with the bottles during the wedding or with the Russian traditional dances in the bar, a rare moment of peace between the two communities. Everything is supported by songs became classics like If I Were a Rich Man, Sunrise, Sunset or To Life.
Tradition and modernity are fairly mixed by laughter and emotion as it tells a beautiful plausible story. But everything that makes the musical is its setting and its rhythm. On this note, it is the one seen on stage that is winning to Norman Jewison’s 1971 film.
If the film as superb cinematography, shots, the last one, in particular, all with shadows, that is blowing our minds, Trevor Nunn’s version has better rhythm and a lighter tone giving all their consistency to the jokes and punchlines. Rhythm is everything. In a visually superb setting, efficient, light enough, realist but not too much, we see the cast give life to the village before walking in the stalls, as if the audience was part of Anatevka.
Again, if the film is a good way to discover the musical to those unable to see it live, we are still more convinced by the theatre version of Fiddler on the Roof. That’s why we urge you to run, fly or teleport to the theatre to see it soon if you can.
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