Fiddler On The Roof (In Yiddish)
By Eugene Paul
as ever of music, dancing, fun, ,laughter, love and heartbreak, a deeper theatrical
delight than you imagined.
in 1964 when Fiddler on the
Roof first appeared on Broadway, the show was so successful it was
able to command double the price of top orchestra seats which at the time was
$4.90. If you were fortunate enough to have invested $1,000 in the show, your
return was $1,874,000. The show reaped applause and prodigious profits around
the world. It remains the most popular musical ever in Japan, steeped as they
are in tradition. It remains well known in Russia in spite of having never
been presented there. An estimated 15,000 community productions of Fiddler take place every
month throughout the world. Save Russia.
Joel Grey’s richly pungent Yiddish speaking production of this great American
classic Fiddler On The Roof transferred
its sold out run at the Museum of Jewish Heritage to Theatre Row’s welcoming
environs just around the corner from Broadway, huge cast, orchestra, brilliant
Beowulf Boritt’s pared down setting intact. The crowds are still coming, hardly
dependent on the English titles, knowing the musical so well. There are Russian
titles, too, just in case, which is a wry anomaly, since all the Russian
characters in the play speak in Yiddish, something that never happened.
Russians spoke Russian; if any Jew spoke to a Russian, he had to speak in
Russian, too. For Russians to speak to Jews in Yiddish was unheard of. After
all, it was their country, in which Jews had been allowed to live. And for
generations. Until they were driven out.
that is the core of this much admired, much beloved musical, woven from the
stinging, sentimental stories of Sholem Aleichem into Joseph Stein’s aching
book, Jerry Bock’s unforgettable melodies, Sheldon Harnick’s poetically
elemental lyrics, creating Jewish life in the story book shtetl of Anatevka,
pivoting around the travails of the local milk peddler, Tevye, trying to live
his poverty riven life according to his ancient traditions with his wife,
Golde, and their five daughters. In this deeply moving, deeply involving production
tradition is vividly borne out from beginning to bitter end, constantly
reminding us with a single Hebrew word blazoned on the tawny brown roughened
paper surround of the setting: Torah. Torah, the very bed rock of tradition.
fiddler on a roof ( Lauren Jeanne Thomas) opens our plaintive view into the
crumpled past of the little village in 1906, a time of change. Our Tevye
enters, pulling his cart of milk cans because his horse is ailing again. God
has so much to do He hasn’t had time for Tevye’s troubles. And our Tevye
(completely engaging Steven Skybell) captivating in his humorous battles with
God, heartbreaking in his heartbreak, takes all his traditions dead seriously,
especially his rights as The Papa of his tumultuous, loving family.
when Yente, the village match maker (wonderful Jackie Hoffman at her very best)
does them the great favor of making a match for their oldest daughter, Tsaytl
(luminous Rachel Zatcoff) with the village’s richest man, the widower butcher
Leyzer-Volf (mordantly fine Bruce Sabath) Tevye has to consider his daughter’s
welfare first. That he would have a son-in-law he doesn’t much like, and worse,
older than himself is secondary. He pledges his darling Tsaytl, to Lezer-Volf.
Tears! Tsaytl has pledged herself in secret to the tailor Motl Kamzoyl
(endearing Ben Liebert), her shy, penniless love. Love? Secret love?! No! It’s
The Papa who decides! Tradition! But his heart melts. He allows the unheard
of, that Tsaytl and Motl may marry. Oy, how to convince Golde, his wife, who is
relieved and ecstatic that her oldest has a rich butcher husband-to-be, she’ll
hilariously horrific stratagem terrifies Golde and a crisis is diverted. But
not for long. Darling Hodl ( winning Stephanie Lynne Mason), Tevye’s second
oldest daughter, has fallen in love, too, with, of course, penniless Pertshik,
( vivid Drew Siegla) a strapping outspoken itinerant teacher, unemployed,
homeless. Tevye invites him for Shabbos and Pertshik stays to teach Tevye’s
younger girls. But when Pertshik hears of the dangerous unrest and violence in
Kiev, he is impelled to go there and help. And, yes, Hodl and Pertshik want to
marry. So now, Tevye is losing a daughter and it pains him bitterly but Hodl,
darling Hodl loves her Pertshik. What can a soft hearted father do?
greatest agony in these diffiult, changing times is when his third daughter,
lovely Khava,( wonderfully appealing Rosie Jo Neddy) falls in love with Fyedke
(outstanding Cameron Johnson) who is not Jewish. She runs away to marry Fyedke
under the blessing of the local Russian Orthodox priest. Certainly not Tevye’s
blessing. Crushed, Tevye declares her dead. Then, worst of all, the Tsar
orders all Jews to leave the country.
it not for extraordinary songs, extraordinary dancing, deeply felt
performances, full of laughter, tenderness, boisterous high spirits, explosions
of joy, comic delights, ours would be a heartbreakingly sad story. Obviously
it has touched millions of hearts yet given them great pleasure. Somehow, in
Yiddish, it seems more poignant than ever. Director Joel Grey’s many years as
an acting and singing star has infused his production with not only deep
understanding but deep respect for his entire company and it shows. He has
wisely retained many elements of the original staging and focused them closer
to Tevye’s central life course: following the traditions of generations before
him, somehow surviving painful change.
of all, the songs, the wonderful songs, “If I were a Rich Man”, “Matchmaker,
Matchmaker”, Sunrise, Sunset”, “Tradition”, “To Life”, “Miracle of Miracles” ,
and so many more illuminate your spirits in Yiddish just as they did in
English, and Sheldon Harnick’s lyrics continue to be offered as translations.
Well, mostly. Thrilled, this is among my favorite Fiddlers.
Fiddler on the Roof at Stage 42, 422 West 42nd Street. Tickets: $69-$169.
212-239-6200. 3 hrs. Thru Jan 5