There are distinctly two Craig Revel Horwoods. The public version is probably best known for his acid-tongued dissections of the shortcomings of the celebrity hoofers on Strictly Come Dancing. The private CRH is a dedicated choreographer/director with an increasing presence in the musical theatre industry and whose new production of Fiddler on the Roof is coming to the Grand this Tuesday 15th October!
“I love the story, I also love the music and it has great lyrics – so what more do you want?” enthuses Craig. “And we’ve also pulled off a bit of a coup in signing Paul Michael Glaser to play Tevye. He appeared as Perchik in the film version of Fiddler in 1971. For me, it’s a story about persecution, it’s a story about family values, it’s a story about broken hearts and dreams. It’s really moving and yet it’s extremely funny. And every number in the score is a winner. Sunrise Sunset is a beautiful song and If I Were A Rich Man is about having your hopes and dreams but also about knowing your position, knowing who you are”
The practice of casting doubly talented performers who can play instruments as well as act has become increasingly common. Craig explains that it’s an approach that is especially well-suited to Fiddler on the Roof.
“I like doing big shows in a small, intimate way,” he says. “Here you have an on-stage band written into the show and whereas most touring productions of Fiddler would have about seven musicians in the band, here we can have twenty and these twenty players will make it sound magnificent. And for once you can have a real fiddler playing The Fiddler on the Roof rather than an actor miming it.”
Craig argues that the show has an important and a very timely message to communicate.
“Different religions often cause barriers to be built between people but Fiddler gives you an insight into the Jewish religion. It’s about acceptance and understanding of a different culture, a different religion and it teaches people about faith. Fiddler also shows people getting angry and standing up for themselves. When the Russian soldiers appear, it creates an atmosphere of aggression and mistrust and there are still such tensions in the world today. Fiddler on the Roof is a timeless classic which people can relate to now.”
Tevye, the dairyman father of five daughters, is the protagonist at the heart of Fiddler on the Roof and although there is an array of vividly-realised supporting characters in the show, Tevye is a monster of a role and has to be given to an actor who can satisfy its demands. Why had Craig turned to Paul Michael Glaser to be his Tevye – apart from the coincidence of his appearing in the screen version of the story?
“We were looking to change the idea of Topol because everybody remembers Topol in the part,” replies Craig. “Paul is the right age, he’s very intellectual in his approach and he uses a little bit of the Method. We’ve talked a lot about the part of Tevye and how Paul should think about it. He asks some very intelligent questions and he’s already done some bits of acting down the phone. Tevye is the one character in the show who breaks through the fourth wall and talks directly to the audience. As people, we say one thing and think another but with Tevye, we get to see what’s really going on in his mind. He reveals his innermost thoughts to us.”
Working as director/choreographer on Fiddler on the Roof is, Craig says “the complete antithesis” to the world of Strictly Come Dancing which he characterises as “all gloss and spangle” Directing is “completely different. I go into a new show with a wholly blank canvas, it’s a voyage of discovery in which I listen and I learn.”
Do his actor/musicians tremble like the hapless Strictly Come Dancing contestants for fear of the lash of his tongue?”
“I tell them the truth,” he says simply. “You have to be honest with actors if you have to get them to upgrade their performances. But then I’ve chosen to work with them and so I like them, which is a hugely different scenario from Strictly.”
Assuming the responsibilities of a director, especially on something as complex as a musical, is not a task to be taken lightly, however. So how did Craig, without any formal training, add directing to his skills as a choreographer and how did he learn the craft?
“There is no school I know of where they’ll teach you to direct,” he points out. “I’d learned a few basic rules such as bringing someone on from Stage Left is more dramatic than from Stage Right and that moving an actor downstage brings more focus than sending him upstage. In a way, I’ve taken bits from everybody I’ve worked with. You could say that I was trained under Declan Donnellan when he was directing Martin Guerre. I loved the way he taught me to feed my mind and to think of using targets as a means of projecting character. Then there was Susan Stroman who taught me to think outside the box and that as a director, you have to see things which nobody else sees.”
Craig particularly enjoys working on new musicals because “you almost have to be a theatre doctor” What sells a show to him is “the music and the story. I think of a musical in terms of the order of the credits – Book, Music and Lyrics.” He points out that the stage directions in a musical will frequently have only the bland instruction ‘They Dance’, “which can often be inspiring because it’s hard to do.”
What does Craig hope that audiences will take away from the experience of seeing this production of Fiddler on the Roof?
“I’d like them to engage emotionally with the story and in that way learn something about themselves through understanding how other people live and think. When you watch a play, sitting with the rest of the audience in a darkened room, you become involved in someone else’s life and that can leave something in your heart. I hope that happens with Fiddler on the Roof.”