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A CurtainUp Review
Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish
By Elyse Sommer
But hurrah, hurrah. The Yiddish Fiddler on the Roof has now moved uptown to the handsome Theater 42 in the center of the street that some of Manhattan's most vibrant Off-Broadway theater companies call home. Granted there was something special for audiences seeing this musical about Jews being forced out of their homeland in a place within sight of Ellis Island and its welcoming Statue. But this move to the more easily accessible 42nd Street venue has given an even wider audience to experience this powerfully staged and performed version and applaud it with a hearty So with less shlepping to get there you'll still want applaud it with a hearty L'chaim .
As you never had to be Jewish to thrill to the gorgeous score bt Jerry Bock and Sheidon Harnick and Joseph Stei's book based on Sholem Aleichem's stories, you don't have to understand Yiddish to thrill to this production. Though most adult theater goers will know the songs and story and have probably seen it more than once, they'll come away feeling they've seen it for the first time— and that this is how it was meant to be. For anyone with young kids, it's a good way to introduce them to this just about perfect musical.
As Paulanne Simmons pointed out when she reviewed this Fiddler during its much extended downtown run (review), the music, lyrics and book based on the stories of Sholem Aleichem (a pen name for Solomon Naumovich Rabinovich), so thoroughly captured Yiddishkeit that it somehow sounded like Yiddish even when the dialogue and singing was in English. In fact, the helpful English translation projected at each side of the stage come from the original musical.
Fortunately the downtown cast is again on board. And the jewel in the crown of legendary performer Joel Grey's directing career shines more brightly than ever. Under his helmsmanship the cloud of living in a hostile, intolerant world is as ever present as its humor. And even though many of the performers had to learn their lines phonetically, he's guided them to deliver them with completely natural emotional depth— so much so that you won't really need the projected translation to get caught up and understand what's happening.
The daughters, (stephanie Lynne Mason, Rachel Zatcoff as Tsaytl,Stephanie Lynne Mason as Hod and Rosie Jo Neddy as Khave), are all winning and vocally strong; ditto for Jennifer Babiak's Golda the only major cast change. The suitors are also fine with Drew Sswigla bringing enough sizzle to the revolutionary Perchik to make Hodl's willingness to follow him to Siberia understandable.
Jackie Hoffman is the best known ensemble member. For all the roles she's played, Yente the Matchmaker is the one that seems to have been written for her. And yet while she's certainly funny and a makes a priceless contribution, she's refrained from going overboard with her usual scene stealing shtick.
I could go on but with a cast this large I'll let the above stand for the overall excellence with which everyone handles the iconic songs and dialogue and Stas Kmiec.'s breathtaking re-creation of Jerome Robbins' brilliant choreography.
Beowulf Boritt's set is bare bones compared to other productions I've seen. However the hanging panels, with the word Torah on the central one, work most effectively to establish the aura of people living in a world as likely to be ripped apart as that Torah inscribed panel. Those panels also serve to give us a glimpse of Zlamen Mlotek's the 12-member orchestra, and the intermittently emerging Fiddler (Lauren Jean Thomas).
The visual simplicity is effectively enhanced by Ann Hould-Ward's costumes — a grisaille palette for the Jewish Anatekvans, blood-red hats and sashes for the Russians — and Peter Kaczorowski's subtly evocative lighting. Thus even with just two chairs to use as a bed for the hilarious Dream scene manages to be hilariously stunning.
Too bad Donald Trump and his cohorts, with their unwelcoming policies toward persecuted foreigners, aren't like to make a trip to this theater instead of another rally to his Jew and foreigner hostile supporters.
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Fiddler on the Roof
Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, music by Jerry Bock, book by Joseph Stein
Yiddish translation by Shraga Friedman, presented with English and Russian supertitle
choreography by Jerome Robbins
Musical staging and additional choreagraphy by Stas Kmiec
Directed by Joel Grey
Cast (Principal Characters, most also art of the 27-member Ensemble): Steven Skybell (Tevye), Jackie Hoffman (Yente), Jennifer Babiak (Golde), Joanne Borts (Sheyndl), Lisa Fishman Bobe Tsatyl, Kirk Geritano (Avrom); Samantha Hahn ( Beylke); Cameron Johnson (Fyedka(; Ben Liebert (Motl Kamzoyl);Stephanie Lynne Mason (Hodl); Evan Mayer (Sasha); Rosie Jo Neddy (Khave); Raquel Nobile (Shprintze); Nick Raynor (Yosl); Bruce Sabath (Leyzer- Volf); Drew Seigla (Perchik); Adam B. Shapiro (Der Rov); Jodi Snyder (Frume-Sore); James Monroe Stevko (Mendl); Lauren Jeanne Thomas (Der Fiddler); Bobby Underwood (Der Gradavoy); Mikhl Yashinsky (Nokhum/Mordkhe) and Rachel Zatcoff (Tsaytl)
Set design Beowulf Boritt
Costume Design: Ann Hould-Ward
Sound Design: Dan Moses Schreier
Lighting Design: Peter Kaczorowski
Conductor and Music Director:Zalmen Mlotek
Wig and hair design by Tom Watson
Props by Addison Heeren
Production Stage Manager: Kat West
Running Time: 3 hours with 1 intermission
National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene production at Theatre 42, 422 W. 42nd Street
From 2/10/19; opening 2/21/19; closing 9/01/19
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 2/20 press performance
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