Off-Broadway Review: FIDDLER ON THE ROOF IN YIDDISH (Stage 42)

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by Harvey Perr on April 29, 2019

in Theater-New York

SO WHAT’S NOT TO LIKE?

As Shakespeare said, “Good wine needs no bush.”

Thus, there is no need to add to what New Yorkers have already discovered, that no matter how many productions of Fiddler on the Roof you’ve sat through, you ain’t seen nothing yet until you’ve seen it in Yiddish, until you’ve heard it in the language in which the shtetl residents of Anatevka spoke, until you see Tevye the milkman not as Sholem Aleichem’s folkloric hero but as a stern patriarch whose feet are firmly planted on the ground until time and change force him and his family out of his home and on the migrant’s journey to places unknown.

There is a poignant relevance to the story at this very moment, in this gorgeously reimagined revival, under the deeply felt, passionate and perfectly simple direction of Joel Grey. The National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene production has moved Off-Broadway where it should stay as long as there are actors who can speak Yiddish (either from the heart or by rote) and keep this vibrant language alive.

I can single out some of the show’s more glorious moments: the way Jerome Robbins’ original and still memorable choreography is is enhanced by the way Staś Kmieć has added a natural kind of dancing that is familial and casual; the way “Do You Love Me?” (“Libst Mikh, Sertse”) becomes not a bit of comic business but a song of tenderness and regret; the way the dream sequence returns shadow play to an art form; the way we hear Fyedke (Cameron Johnson), the Russian soldier who eventually marries Tevye’s youngest daughter, for the first time, singing a sustained musical chord which seems to bring the entire Russian Army Chorus to the stage for one extraordinarily profound moment; for the magic created by its wonderful ensemble but with special praise for Steven Skybell’s solid Tevye and, miracle of miracles, Jackie Hoffman’s Yente, who brought me back to my childhood in Brooklyn and to memories of my Bubby Sadie and my Tanta Dora who introduced me to theater by taking me to see musicals in Yiddish on Second Avenue and at the tiny Hopkinson theater in Brooklyn, and where I got my sentimental education, where names like Leo Fuchs, Yetta Zwerling, Pesach Burstein, Lillian Lux, Seymour Rechzeit and Florence Weiss were burned into my memory.

But, in essence, Fiddler would shine in any language, because, as this production makes evident, the heart is the universal tongue.

photos by Matthew Murphy

Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish
National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene
Stage 42, 422 West 42nd Street
in Yiddish with English and Russian supertitles
ends on June 30, 2019 EXTENDED to September 1, 2019
for tickets, call 212.239.6200 or visit Telecharge
for more info, visit Fiddler and NYTF

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