Well, there’s milk in the old cow yet. The cash cow that is Fiddler on the Roof, I mean, which started giving in 1964 and ran for a record-breaking 3,242 performances. Forced to abandon the town of Anatevka, Tevye and his neighbors have travelled the world to inhabit the small but rich territory that is the theatrical stage. One of those theaters giving a temporary home to the Fiddler is the Arts Center in Aberystwyth, Wales, where the plight of the Russian Jews and their threatened “Tradition” are now being re-enacted by a mostly Welsh cast, headed by Welsh-born Peter Karrie in the role of Tevye.
Karrie (“The World’s Most Popular Phantom”) performed in the same venue last summer, when he impressed me with his sensitive portrayal of Fagin in Lionel Bart’s Oliver! (as discussed here). This time around, the show truly revolves around him, which is somewhat of a problem for his fellow actors, who can’t hold a candlestick to him. Karrie is a musical actor; he does not merely saunter or dance across the stage to belt out tunes like the familiar “If I Were a Rich Man.” Even with a microphone coming unglued and protruding from his cheek like a handle on a paper bag, he is thoroughly convincing and engrossing.
Holding up well enough opposite him as his wife is Andrea Miller, who takes on Golde with a long-faced, comical severity that reminds me of Edna May Oliver. Her sentimental duet with Tevye, “Do You Love Me?” is one of the highlights of a show whose greatest shortcoming is that it is rather devoid of darkness. After all, the pogroms, the razing of entire villages and the exodus of the Jews from their Russian homes, are not to be treated like an occasion for so many routinely staged showstoppers. This Fiddler came across like a Jewish version of Pride and Prejudice, with hard-up Golde, like Jane Austen’s Mrs. Bennett, trying to get her five daughters married to well-to-do suitors while her permissive husband caves in to the youngsters’ concept of matrimony as a union of loving partners.
Central to this plot is the matchmaker Yente, a role originated by Golden Girl Bea Arthur (whom I last spotted autographing DVDs at a Manhattan bookstore). In this production, a shtick-figure of a Yente slips in and out of her Yiddish accent. Less fitting still were most of the wigs and beards, rendering the Rabbi, as performed by a juvenile, so laughable as to compromise the sincerity of the entire production. Now, Aberystwyth is a summer resort for Hassidic Jews, who take over one of its beaches during the month of August. Should any of them venture out to see this production, as directed by BAFTA-award winning Michael Bogdanov, they might very well hiss this unfortunate miscast off the stage.
Studying the playbill, I came across one intriguing radio dramatic connection–a wireless connection I invariably seek and find without fail. Apart from Andrea Martin, who is an award-winning writer of radio plays, the playbill names Arnold Perl as the man by whose “special permission” the Tevye stories of Sholem Aleichem were adapted for Fiddler.
I am not sure how Perl got to acquire the rights to these late 19th/eary 20th-century tales; but, as a writer whose old-time radio play “The Empty Noose” commented on the inconclusiveness of the Nuremberg Trials (as mentioned here), he was undoubtedly drawn to them due to their special cultural and political significance, a heritage of horrors now playing itself out in the uneasy compromise that is Israel, a heritage that Bogdanov, himself a descendant of Ukranian Jews, merely fiddles with his amiable roof hoofers for the sticks.