>FIDDLER ON THE ROOF by Singapore Lyric Theatre

>reviewed by daniel teo

>date: 7 jul 1999
>time: 8pm
>venue: victoria theatre
>rating: ***

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.


Change is in the air. From the crazy ideas of Perchick to the radical notions of love that is permeating the village, things are no longer the same. FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, a musical set in a Jewish village in Russia, ponders the ramifications of change, a society torn asunder by the forces of progress. Centred around the family of Teyve the milkman, we are brought into the lives of Teyve, his wife and his daughters.

At the start of the musical the audience is given a gist of how the village works -- namely by upholding tradition. As Teyve puts it: " Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as fiddler on the roof." Free will is not the order of the day. Nobody marries for love as every marriage is arranged by the parents through the match-maker. What counts in this village is that you follow the rules and don't make too much noise. So you can imagine the consequences when Teyve's daughters start to decide their own fates and break the shackles that bind their already growing feet. Love then becomes the symbol of freedom, of asserting their own destiny. One by one, they question the tyranny of tradition by, horrors of horrors, falling in love. And without the match-maker's help too! What is the world coming too? FIDDLER ON THE ROOF is a socio-economic musical that addresses several issues with the light treatment of comedy. While each issue is worthy of serious ponderous discussion, the musical deals with them with a hearty dose of humour. When Perchick enters the lives of the villagers, he introduces radical ideals of communism and economic theories of wealth distribution. He gives lessons to Teyve's two young daughters by telling them stories from the bible and issuing them with modern takes of those ancient tales: "Never trust an employer." When Hodel leaves his family to be with Perchick in Siberia, we get a glimpse of the modern new age woman, brave enough to realise that the world doesn't end at the kitchen door.

>>'The chemistry between the actors was notable as they showed obvious ease with one another'

Poverty and personal integrity are balls that are thrown in the air for the audience to juggle as we see Teyve struggling to get through life with as much dignity as he can muster. What is commendable about the musical is the fact that this humour does not undermine the seriousness of the crux of the musical. Instead it enforces the truism the musical is trying to say: laughter is the only way to deal with life's many tragedies. When Teyve is dealt with disappointments one after the other, he could have simply collapsed. Yet with a brave smile, he solved his problems with wit and bravo. It could have easily become a few hours of mindless fun but the musical had a message and it said it astutely with the sounds of laughter and generous portions of humanity.

It is not hard to see why musicals remain the most popular genre of theatre. Equally commendable were the performances of the numerous actors that formed the cast of the village. They acted with as much gusto and passion, not only in their roles but also as a village collectively. However it was the biggest stars that stole the limelight as they wooed the audience with their infectious tunes. Leow Siak Fah as Teyve was outstanding as the Russian Willy Loman caught in a whirlwind of changes. He made suffering an endearing trait and made so many in the audience shed a tear of him even in their laughter. Emma Yong as Hodel was equally impressive as a young woman on the threshold of discovery, strong and brave but terrified at the same time. Hossan Leong as Motel was a riot of fun as he put on his usual neurotic Ally Mcbealish take to the role of a penniless tailor yearning for love. Nora Samosir as Hossan's female comedic sidekick Yente was all innuendoes and winks, raunchy fun but still within the whole family fun boundaries.

The chemistry between the actors was similarly notable as they showed obvious ease with one another. The scene where the three daughters dance to their dreams of love still sticks in this reviewer's mind. While it is easy to dismiss musicals as Mc-theatre for the masses, the fact is that Singapore Lyric Theatre made the plight of Russian peasants of a faraway era relevant to a theatre full of Singaporeans for that few hours. Considering the fact that many in the cast looked like a Changal's version of "The American Tail" meets "The Beauty and the Beast", that in itself is an achievement that they should be proud of. It takes courage to laugh when life demands you to cry.