FIRST NIGHT / Topol grows into traditional role: 'Fiddler On The Roof'; London Palladium

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IT MUST have been Fiddler On The Roof because Topol was playing Tevye the milkman, the audience gave a thunderous standing ovation and, as one of the cast said afterwards: 'I've been in quite a few musicals, but this is one where you wake up in the middle of the night singing one of the songs and you don't mind.'

This was all true first time around in 1967 in London. Tradition, tradition, as Topol has sung more than 1,400 times in the showstopping opening number.

But in last night's revival, which was a faithful re-creation of the original Jerome Robbins production, there were some changes to tradition. The guaranteed success from the advance ticket sales allowed Paul Gregg, the producer and owner of the Apollo Leisure Group, to throw a lavish after-show banquet in the Dorchester. And as a reminder of the passing of the years there was another Topol on stage: his daughter, Adi, playing his stage daughter, Chava.

Another difference is that in 1967 the 31-year-old Topol had to leave the role to return to Israel to fight in the Six Day War. His understudy then, who took over the lead, was George Little, who was one of four original cast members appearing last night, and is the man who still wakes up singing the score. He plays the innkeeper in this revival. He said last night: 'This show just doesn't date. The emotions are so deep and so true. Topol's performance has matured and deepened. It's simply one of the great musicals.'

Topol has played the part more than 1,400 times. He said at the Dorchester last night that he could no longer remember the exact number.

At 59, at last the right age for the part, he is keeping in shape by running every morning, and has, of course, grown the Tevye beard.

Topol's power to charm the audience was consummate last night, extracting laughter and tears. But the production with its backcloth of simple drawings at times looked dated.

Strong on humour, it was less strong on conveying a sense of fear and threat in the world of pogroms, arrests and arranged marriages. New direction, sets and designs, would have added an edge to the Sixties nostalgia current on the West End stage.

Last night's revival will go on tour after 12 weeks at the Palladium.

It will be replaced there by Lionel Bart's Oliver. Not exactly a season of new shows, but while both cast and audiences wake up in the middle of the night singing, who's counting?

(Photograph omitted)