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 Revel Horwood is a dedicated choreographer/director with an increasing presence in the musical theatre industry and whose new production of Fiddler on the Roof will be touring the country this autumn.
In addition, he is a published author and his new book, Tales From The Dance Floor, a follow-up to the best-selling All Balls and Glitter, which will be published later this month.
Fiddler on the Roof opened on Broadway in September 1964, the last of the many classic musicals to be choreographed and directed by the legendary Jerome Robbins. It went on to be one of the longest running shows in Broadway history and during the 1960s the airwaves were full of songs from its score, notably Sunrise Sunset and If I Were A Rich Man. Is it a show that means a lot to Craig?
“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 20 and these 20 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,” says 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.”
An unusual feature of a number of the classic Broadway musicals is that it is a condition of the granting of the performance rights that the original choreography is preserved. You can see that this is especially relevant where the work of the late Jerome Robbins is concerned. Does Craig find it irksome to have to use other people’s ideas, however eminent the source, and so limit his own contribution?
“Of course, it will be Jerome Robbins’ choreography but within the envelope of a show performed by actors playing instruments. I am there to maintain the integrity of the piece but make sure that as I recreate Jerome’s work I am adding the same spirit and flair that Jerome brought to all of his work originally. He told wonderful stories through his choreography and there’s a real threat, a real menace in the room which you see in the movement when the Russian soldiers appear that makes it very alarming. As a choreographer, you learn from other choreographers but you apply your own processes of thought and through that thought you make the dance live for today’s audiences.”
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.”
Craig first came to attention as a gifted choreographer in the theatre before his exploits on the judges’ bench on Strictly introduced him to a wider public. What did the young Craig dream about becoming during his early days in Australia?
“I wanted to dance and I wanted to dance on a platform that was as wide as possible which is why I left Australia and came to London. One day when I was in my mid-thirties, I tried to look ahead. I felt that I had a good five years left as a dancer but did I really still want to be dancing at the age of forty? Eventually I went into directing.”
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.”
Craig has also crossed over, as it where, from an authority figure on Strictly to being a quivering amateur on cookery and conducting reality shows.
“I’d give anything a go,” declares the intrepid Craig. “I like doing dangerous things, giving myself huge challenges. Otherwise you stagnate.”
He is deeply committed to the battle against osteoporosis, a crippling condition which, according to Craig, affects one in two women and one in five men.
“I believe in the charity and one of the reasons I believe in it is that I can do something that can change somebody’s life,” he says. “If you dance from an early age, you can build up a bone-bank for the future and that makes a difference.
“I can talk to the children and young adults and I can inform them that if you dance, you protect yourself against osteoporosis in later life. It’s the perfect relationship. You promote dance and you promote good health as well. In a way Strictly has helped the cause as well simply by getting more people to dance.”
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.”
Fiddler on the Roof will be performing from Tuesday, September 17 until Saturday, September 21 at Theatre Royal, Nottingham. Tickets are available by calling 0115 989 5555 or logging on to www.trch.co.uk