When life imitates art

Fiddler On The Roof presented by Singapore Lyric Theatre.

My father's favourite musical is Fiddler On The Roof.

My two sisters and I have watched the 1971 Norman Jewison film at least 20 times, initially under coercion from my father, and later on, for nostalgia's sake.

We have watched it so often that we have memorised huge swathes of its script, right down to the pauses before jokes and the beats between sentences.

We know the lyrics to every song, and also every swerve of the spinetingling, wickedly rapid cadenza of motifs from the musical, played by legendary violinist Isaac Stern just after the film's prologue.

The musical revolves around milkman and traditional Jewish patriarch Tevye (played by Chaim Topol in an Oscar-nominated role), whose family lives in the small town of Anatevka, part of the Russian empire in 1905.

The sweeping family drama was painted onto the fraught political landscape of the period, full of the racial and religious tensions of a region perched on the cusp of the first world war.

Of course, we were unaware of that churning backdrop when we were children; we watched the film mainly for its focus on Tevye's three older daughters (he had five, but the younger two somehow always seemed irrelevant) and their search for love and marriage.

We sang: "Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match/Find me a find, catch me a catch!" as Tevye's daughters Tzeitel, Hodel and Chava draped themselves in fresh laundry and imitated the village matchmaker, Yente.

And, as was the tradition then, every possible match had to gain the approval of the girls' father (which my father deeply appreciated).

We often joked that, like our counterparts in the film: - I would marry for love, and he would be similar to Tzeitel's sweet, awkward tailor, unassuming and devoted; - my younger sister would marry a scholar, and like Hodel's beau Perchik, he would be sharply intelligent and revolutionary; - my youngest sister would marry someone not from our immediate community, the way third daughter Chava, an Orthodox Jew, married a Russian Orthodox peasant named Fyedka, and her father promptly disowned her - but without the disowning bit, of course.

When it was announced that the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall would re-open their doors to the public later this year, I was transported back to the regal buildings that were my introduction to the Singapore arts scene. The first musical I ever watched was staged at the Victoria Theatre.

It was - you guessed it, the Singapore Lyric Theatre's rousing take on Fiddler On The Roof in 1999. Featuring the Lyric Theatre's founding chairman, Leow Siak Fah, as Tevye, its ensemble cast included Caleb Goh, Nora Samosir, Hossan Leong and the late Emma Yong.

That evening at the theatre brought some of my favourite cinema moments to life. I remember being quite overcome with excitement as we sat in a corner of the balcony, gazing raptly at the stage below.

We often speak of art imitating life. But on certain occasions, life does imitate art.

When my husband and I first started dating a couple of years ago, he met my family for the first time and immediately won them over with his sweetnatured humility and big heart.

Several months later, as my family and I were discussing my relationship over dinner, the topic of conversation turned, somehow, to Fiddler On The Roof.

My parents and sisters began to laugh uncontrollably.

"Oh my god, Corrie," they squealed, "He's the tailor!"

Now I am almost convinced that somewhere out there, a Perchik and a Fyedka are waiting in the wings to sweep my sisters off their feet.

You'll have to impress my father first, though.


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