‘If I were a rich man,” sings Tevye, the poor Jewish milkman in Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick’s 1964 musical Fiddler on the Roof, as he wistfully ponders a better life for his family. In a great revival, Fiddler is still affecting, such is Tevye’s comic truthfulness as we watch him negotiate a changing world, a wife with a mind of her own, and five rebellious daughters.
Six years later, in what was to be their last collaboration, Bock and Harnick attempted to repeat the magic with the story of Mayer Rothschild, a poor Jew living in the Frankfurt ghetto at the end of the 18th century, who became a very rich man indeed and founded a banking dynasty.
Mayer (played by Robert Cuccioli) may be smart, but he is no Tevye, lacking that character’s doleful warmth. This beautifully sung, often musically intricate but overly earnest production should be rousing as Mayer attempts to use his growing financial clout to persuade a succession of royals to tear down Europe’s ghetto walls and set his people free. But don’t bank on it: the result is mostly just handsome, stilted and dull.
In this reworked chamber version, directed by Jeffrey Moss, Mayer’s wife Gutele (Glory Crampton) is insipid, and he has five dully obedient sons. It makes you think that economist JK Galbraith had a point when he observed that “banking may well be a career from which no man ever really recovers”. Clearly, no musical, either.
- At Park theatre, London, until 17 February. Box office: 020-7870 6876.