Fiddler on the Roof - London

Trevor Nunn's revival of this classic musical transfers to the West End.

West End Fiddler on the Roof Star Judy Kuhn on a Surprising Email from Trevor Nunn & Why She Doesn't Plan Ahead

West End Fiddler on the Roof Star Judy Kuhn on a Surprising Email from Trevor Nunn & Why She Doesn't Plan Ahead
Judy Kuhn and Andy Nyman in London's "Fiddler on the Roof"
(Photo: Johan Persson)

Broadway veteran and four-time Tony nominee Judy Kuhn has given over the better part of the past year to London and to Trevor Nunn’s beautiful Menier Chocolate Factory revival of Fiddler on the Roof, which has since transferred to the Playhouse Theatre. Recently in Manhattan to perform her solo concert at Symphony Space, Kuhn has returned to the West End for a final month as Golde opposite Andy Nyman’s Tevye [Maria Friedman will replace her] and to proffer her thoughts on matters musical, and otherwise, with Broadway.com.

What was the attraction of doing Fiddler in London , given that you followed on from Jessica Hecht as Golde in Bartlett Sher’s Broadway revival of the same show in 2016?
I did that [Broadway] production just for six weeks and was kind of thrown into it, as replacements are. So, this was a chance to do a completely different production with a different cast and to form a relationship with Tevye [British performer Andy Nyman] from the beginning.

How important was the director Trevor Nunn to your decision, given how often you have worked with him, from your Tony-nominated turns in Les Miserables and Chess to the American premiere of Sunset Boulevard in L.A.?
This only happened because Trevor sent me an email last September asking if I would come and do it. I hadn’t seen or heard from Trevor in a very long time, so [the offer] came out of the blue as far as I was concerned, but I was thrilled to be asked to do it here. Trevor brings just an extraordinary amount of enthusiasm and devotion to the work that happens in the rehearsal room.

Had you ever seen a show at the Menier Chocolate Factory prior to appearing there?
I’d seen productions that originated at the Menier that had made their way to New York, but I’d never been in the actual theater before. One of the reasons Trevor wanted to do this at the Menier was because it’s a tiny space, and so we could play [the show] for real. He wanted to banish Broadway size and shtick and all of that.

Judy Kuhn in Fiddler on the Roof
(Photo: Johan Persson)

Are you aware in performance of that absence of shtick?
The thing with Fiddler is that it’s a very beautifully written piece of theater, and it’s not hard to play it that way: [Golde and Tevye’s second-act song] “Do you Love Me?” can be played shticky and for laughs but when you really look at it, you find a great duet about real love—the kind of love that you learn after years of being with somebody. Especially when we were at the Menier, you could hear a reaction from those long-married couples in the audience.

Had you had extensive prior experience with Fiddler, prior to performing Golde in New York and then here?
I hadn’t actually. I’d seen it numerous times, including Herschel Bernardi in the original production when I was about 10 or 11, which I remember loving. But I’d never played any of those daughters: it’s sort of amazing as a Jewish girl from New York that I had never done Fiddler until I replaced Jessica on Broadway.

Has it felt different performing this show away from New York?
Only in terms of how diverse the audience is when I look out at them towards the end of the show—way more diverse than what you see on Broadway! There’s a reason Fiddler has been one of the most revived shows in music theater history and why it plays so well everywhere: it’s about all of us in that everybody has families and cultural traditions they adhere to, and everyone has to deal with those traditions and rituals coming up against changing times and changing customs.

Have you managed to catch the ongoing Yiddish-language Fiddler in any of its off-Broadway iterations?
Yes, and it was fantastic. I saw it when it was down at the Jewish Museum before I came over here [to London ]. I don’t speak Yiddish myself but it was extraordinary to hear the show in the language the characters are actually speaking.

Was that tricky insofar as you were about to return to the very same musical in London?
I don’t really watch things that way, and also, the Yiddish Fiddler was so different from the Broadway production that I had done or the London production that I was about to do. What struck me most, and what always strikes me about this show, is how very real the people in it are to me. These are my grandparents but they’re also the people we see on the news every day—people from other cultures and other religions.

Did you feel a sense of déjà vu when you and Andy [Nyman] presented at last month’s Olivier Awards back to your own Olivier nomination for the 1989 West End musical Metropolis?
I did and, funnily enough, it was Trevor who informed me of that nomination, back before people had Twitter and social media. We were going out to dinner with my Chess co-stars for a little reunion and Trevor said to me, “Congratulations! You were nominated for an Olivier today!” Nobody had told me; my agents hadn’t gotten to me yet!

Did you go to the ceremony? [Lea Salonga ended up winning in that category for Miss Saigon.]
I went and it was in a theater [as opposed to the mammoth Royal Albert Hall] and was sort of much lower-key than either the Oliviers or the Tonys are these days; social media and just sort of media in general have changed awards ceremonies for good, I think. I remember it as a lark and an excuse to go: a friend and I got really dressed up and watched the Oliviers go by.

How are you feeling as your time in London nears an end?
I had planned to go home on March 10 and then I got a call from David Babani [who runs the Menier], saying that the show was moving to the Playhouse and it was happening very fast and please, please would I come with it. So, my five months turned into eight months and now I am leaving in June. I’ve got a husband and a child and a mother who’s 92 back in New York. Maybe if it were not for my mother, I would have stayed a little bit longer. I’ve loved being in London, but it’s time to go home.

Do you know your replacement as Golde—Maria Friedman?
I certainly know of Maria! We have met ,and I was going to play the part she was playing on Broadway in The Woman in White and had a couple of weeks rehearsal, but they decided then to close the show so I never actually did it. We've certainly circled each other and it will be great to actually collide.

Anything on tap once you return home to New York?
There are things I would like to do but you never know. This just dropped into my inbox via an email from Trevor, and Fun Home came about when I got an email inviting me to be part of a reading at the Public Theater of this new piece based on a graphic novel: I had no idea then of the journey it was going to launch. So, I have no idea what’s next after I leave here, and you cannot plan because you just never know what’s going to come up.