Filichia Features: New Ideas for Fiddler on the Roof

Filichia Features: New Ideas for Fiddler on the Roof

Having characters enter from the rear of the house through an aisle is of course nothing new.

And yet, Trevor Nunn shows in his current London revival of Fiddler on the Roof that it's an apt choice for this classic.

For as soon as Tevye alerts us that Anatevka revels in "Tradition," the townspeople who usually bound onto the stage from the wings are still behind the Playhouse's last row. Only now will they join in song musical theater's most famous milkman as they make their way down the aisle.

Nunn doesn't have The Rabbi accompany them. He only enters when his wisdom is needed - he too through the house. This solo entrance establishes that he's the town's most esteemed and important resident.

When Hodel is preparing to leave Anatevka and join Perchik in Siberia, she doesn't just sit and wait for the train to arrive. Instead she slowly walks up the aisle, which informs us of the long and arduous journey she has ahead.

A similar mood is evoked at show's end. After the townspeople sing "Anatevka" with the committed fervor of a national anthem, they make their way inch-by-inch through the house while pulling their belongings on carts. It reinforces in our minds the torturously lengthy trek so many immigrants have been forced to endure throughout history.

All this takes place in front of the unit set that Robert Jones has devised. He's encircled the theater with chockablock houses. Think of a department store's annual Santa's Village - albeit a drab one - and you'll get the point.

Nunn has clearly examined every line and lyric to find hitherto unseen details. In "Tradition" when The Mamas sing that they make "a quiet home," they lower their voices to virtual whispers.

During "Matchmaker," as the three eldest daughters are imagining their weddings and folding sheets, they suddenly spread one wide over their heads. That makes for an improvised chuppah.

As Yente, Louise Gold changes from cheerily hyperactive to rock-hard cold at the wedding. Gold shows that Yente's even more furious than Lazar that he didn't get the bride - and that she didn't get her commission. She also shows how she fears for her future.

As Tevye does those familiar gestures of raising his arms and shaking them wildly in "If I Were a Rich Man," Andy

Nyman suddenly pulls back in pain. Yes - Tevye has been working all day and he should show the ramifications of hard labor.

When Motel confronts Tevye with "A poor tailor is entitled to some happiness," Joshua Gannon roars it out with considerably more conviction than many a previous Motel. Considering that Tevye has always responded "He's starting to talk like a man," Gannon's rant makes his future father-in-law's response all the more understandable.

Then comes the moment when The Rabbi is asked whether the Bible allows or forbids dancing between men and women. Standard-issue productions have had him consult the Bible, scan it slowly and then admit that it doesn't. Nunn saves time by having The Rabbi already know the answer and dispense it.

Without changing a syllable of the text - that's not allowed, remember - Nunn found a new way of ending the first act. It doesn't conclude with Tevye's gesturing to God and questioning why his daughter's wedding had to be ruined by Cossacks. Instead Fyedka and Chava assess the carnage and look at each other. They're reminded that they'll soon have problems as the result of coming from two different religious worlds.

When given the opportunity to accept Chava's interfaith marriage, most Tevyes roar "There is no other hand!" Here Nyman said it softly to indicate that it's a case-closed issue with him.

Then the Anatevkans are evicted. Tevye is consoled that "all the children will be with us" to which Golde has always said "Not all" very quietly. Here Judy Kuhn is instead defiant, spitting out "Not all!" to let Tevye know that she doesn't agree with his decision.

Don't want to child-wrangle any more than necessary? Then follow Nunn's lead in the scene where Yente shows up to match two boys with Tevye and Golde's youngest daughters. Usually she brings them on stage, but Nunn realized that if Yente simply brought their pictures for Golde to assess, that would do. (And it did.)

So now, with the Yiddish production at Stage 42, we now have at least two extraordinary productions of Fiddler on the Roof currently running. Make yours the third. Right? Of course right!

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