Topol - Auckland Has In Its Midst A Champion Of The Stage
By Selwyn Manning
It began with a grey bearded man walking solo onto the stage, his eyes twinkling. He spoke to the heart of his audience of tradition, of dangers, and of times when our past challenges our present. The man was Topol, playing Tevye the lead character in Fiddler on the Roof.
Auckland has in its midst a champion of the stage. The promoters speak of having achieved "a huge theatrical coup". Having been witness to Topol's craft, one has to agree.
The introductory notes state: Fiddler on the Roof is one of the longest running musicals in Broadway history. Its celebrated score features songs loved the world over featuring songs such as Sunrise Sunset, If I Were A Rich Man, which has to be one of the most recognized songs from any musical and Matchmaker, a monster hit for Barbra Streisand. The score is superbly performed by the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra.
Topol performs the role of Tevye – the character that made him an international household name. Topol is the winner of a Golden Globe Award, Tony Award, Olivier Award and an Oscar nomination for his role in the film of the musical.
Topol is the essence of his character. His timing flows without force nor hesitation. His timbered voice breathes life to songs linked to our own lives - his performance true to how we once heard it. Somehow, he seems to have been there, in our past, like a warm old friend.
Fiddler on the Roof is a story that represents a time and a place in our world's history - the dawn of 20th century oppression, where Yiddish communities were identified, isolated, victimized, their land cleared of their kind.
This story touches all however, and draws from inside a kinship with the characters as slowly but surely their lives are affected by the ideological thoughts of other men.
The class of Australia's finest stage performers is in evidence throughout this performance. Judith Roberts plays Tevye's wife Golde, Melle Stewart plays Tzeitel with the air of an eldest daughter. And it is a true delight to see and hear Octavia Barron Martin (Hodel) and Emily Green (Chava) sing.
The acting is, as other critics have said, without peer. Acoustics and ambience knitted perfectly thanks to Auckland's Civic Theatre.
Tevye's family is faced with a two-pronged attack on old traditions. The first is Tevye's anguish as he struggles to balance comfort of old traditions. On one hand is a father's love for his daughters and wanting the best for them as they assert their right to choose. On the other hand, Tevye's limits are tested until he realizes change and the end of tradition are not necessarily wed. Respect, he discovers, survives through his family's love and compassion for him.
The second is more overwhelming. As the grayness of state edicts emerge, shadows gather. Tradition is threatened more acutely by a far more sinister kind.
One can feel the end nearing. To my left sat a man with a handkerchief wiping tears from his eyes. To my right a woman saddened, reminded of distance and loss.
Tevye's family touched all, their parting, their search for a new life, the survival of their tradition in question. Empathy, sympathy, purists overawed by the performance – to my eye, all those attending Fiddler on the Roof at the Civic in Auckland were carried on a journey into themselves.