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A CurtainUp Review
Fiddler On the Roof

I realize, of course, that it's no shame to be poor, but it's no great honor either—Tevye
Steven Skybell as Teyve
The National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene's (NYTF) excellent Yiddish production of Fiddler on the Roof as directed by Joel Grey, translated by Shraga Friedman and performed by his fine cast cast gives us no major revelations about the musical. However, it does make us fall in love with Tevye, his wife, Golde, and his three daughters all over again.

That renewed love affair is, of course, a tribute to Joseph Stein's book, based on the stories of Sholem Aleichem, Jerry Bock's music, and Sheldon Harnick's lyrics — all of which so thoroughly captured Yiddishkeit, that we hear Yiddish even when the actors are speaking and singing in English. In fact, about 80 percent of the English translation that is projected overhead (along with Russian) comes from the original musical.

This staging brilliantly emphasizes the sorrow that colors the lives of the people who live in Anatevke and the brutality of the tragedy that eventually befalls them. Much of this is realized through Beowulf Boritt's set, dominated by hanging panels of paper.

On one of these panels, the word "Torah" is written in Hebrew. Is this Fiddler telling us the Torah is being unravelled along with Tevye's beloved tradition, as one after the other, his daughters choose men without asking his approval? Certainly the marauding Russians at the end of act one make sure to tear one of the the Torah panels in half. But just as certainly the panel is taped together in act two.

Costume designer Ann Hould-Ward has dressed the Jewish population mostly in subdued grays and browns. The Russians wear bright red sashes around their waists. Is this symbolic of passion or bloody violence?

Naturally, the fate of this musical lies to a great extent, on the shoulders of the actor who plays Tevye. The good news is that Steven Skybell is warm and funny and philosophical and ... well ... everything we want this long-suffering milkman to be.

What's more, Jackie Hoffman is priceless as Yente, the canny and ever-complaining matchmaker. And Rachel Zatcoff (Tsaytl), Stephanie Lynne Mason (Hodl) and Rosie Jo Neddy (Khave) are all appropriately feisty and innocent as Tevye's daughters.

When Pertshik, the radical, tells Tevye that his daughter, Hodl "has a quick and witty tongue," Tevye acknowledges that she gets the wit from her father but "The tongue she gets from her mother." Indeed Mary Illes has little of the tenderness one associates with Golde and a bit more of her shrewishness. This, however, may be entirely fitting in a revival that underlines the darker aspects of the musical.

When the Russians teach the Jews how to dance in their slavic tradition as they all celebrate Leyzer's betrothal to Tsaytl, one sees a unique opportunity for peaceful, even harmonious, coexistence. This dream is destroyed when the Jews are forced to leave their beloved shtetl.

Sholem Aleichem was the pen name of Solomon Naumovich Rabinovich. Surely the writer was telling us something when he chose a name that means "peace be with you." And the musical based on his stories cautions us that we cannot have peace when we are hostile to the foreigners among us.

Many people have called Fiddler on the Roof the perfect musical. Perhaps it is also the perfect musical for our time. It's certainly a fine follow up to the company's award-winning The Golden Land






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PRODUCTION NOTES
Fiddler on the Roof
Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, music by Jerry Bock Yiddish translation by Shraga Friedman
Presented with English and Russian supertitles
Directed by Joel Grey
Cast: Jackie Hoffman (Yente), Steven Skybell (Teyve), Jill Abramovitz (Golde),Kirk Geritano (Avram), Samantha Hahn (Bielke),Cameron JohnsonFyedka (Fyedka), Daniel Kahn (Perchik), Ben Liebert(Motel), Stephanie Lynne Mason (Rodel),Rosie Jo Neddy (Chava), Raquel Nobile (Shprintze), Bruce Sabath (Lazar Wolf), Jodi Snyder (Fruma-Sarah), Lauren Jeanne Thomas (The Fiddler), Bobby Underwood (The Constable), Michael Yashinsky (Mordcha), Rachel Zatcoff as (Tzeitel).
choreographer: Stas Kmiec
Set design Beowulf Boritt
Costume Design: Ann Hould-Ward
Sound Design: Dan Moses Schreier
Lighting Design: Peter Kaczorowski
Conductor and Music Director:Zalmen Mlotek
Production Consultants: lyricist Sheldon Harnick and iconic producer/director Hal Prince.
Stage Manager: Kat West
Running Time: 2 hours and 50 minutes, 1 intermission
The National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene (NYTF), performance details and tickets at www.NYTF.org
From 7/04/18; opening 7/15/18; extended multiple times, now closing 10/18/18
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons at July 12th Press preview


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