"Tradition!" bellows Tevye the milkman in the arresting lead number, little knowing just how many of his, his family's and his faith's traditions will soon be broken.
In Lindsay Posner's superbly engaging production, the emphasis is on tradition in the best possible sense. The agile fiddler perches on the rooftop without breaking his neck; the "bottle dance" is breathtakingly spill-free; and the parting of Tevye and his daughters - whether to Siberia or to a marriage outside their faith - is as poignant as ever.
With little razzle-dazzle, no updating of the early 20th-century Tsarist Russia setting and unobtrusive amplification, Posner's focus is firmly on Tevye's struggle to accept change.
Henry Goodman gives a brilliant, big-hearted performance as Tevye, looking every bit the Eastern European Jew. He milks the role for every drop of humour, but never allows the part to descend into a Jewish vaudeville act. Wisecracking with God, struggling to maintain the family values he took from his parents, Goodman's Tevye conveys an essential humanity. Accepting change with impotent fury, his frustration turning to resigned acceptance, he sings as expressively as he acts.
The casting is uniformly good, with Beverley Klein as his shrewd, long-suffering wife Golde. Their three elder daughters, with their partners, bring individual personalities to life in a touching mixture of longing, hope and, finally, conviction that they must move on and take control of their own destinies.
A tight ensemble of eight musicians, directed by Dane Preece, provides adept accompaniment. Even the familiar numbers - "If I Were a Rich Man", "Sunrise, Sunset" and "Matchmaker, Matchmaker" - have a bracing freshness. The action spills out of Peter McKintosh's rough-hewn frame, its shape seamlessly altered to represent various aspects of the shtetl: Tevye's home, tavern, tailor's shop and train station, beyond which we can only imagine the vastness of the plains.
The bleak issues of scraping an existence in Anatevka and, subsequently, of life on the road are, as always, lightened by music, dance and ritual. Alone worth the price of the ticket is the surreal "Dream" scene, in which Tevye invents a nocturnal visit from his late mother-in-law. It brings the dead to nightmarish life as heads pop out of graves and a gruesome Fruma Sarah (Juliet Alderdice) hovers over the stage in a whirl of ghostly recriminations.
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