Arguably, Fiddler on the Roof is a flawless show. The much-beloved classic is so sturdy that even a group of horribly untalented fifth graders couldn’t destroy it. Still, it’s refreshing when a version comes along that is so phenomenal that you want to share it with the world.
New York audiences embraced it when it premiered in 1964. So much in fact, that it held the record of the longest running Broadway show for 10 years. Since then, five Broadway revivals have been mounted, the most recent of which was Bartlett Sher’s production in 2015.
While Sher’s version was hugely praised and visually beautiful–(this reviewer saw it three times), there is a new Fiddler in town–one that might just be the version among all others.
The National Yiddish Theatre Folsbienne’s current production at the Museum of Jewish Heritage more than retains the intent and meaning of Joseph Stein‘s book. It defines it through Shraga Friedman‘s translation and an incomparably talented cast who perform the whole show in Yiddish.
Yiddish!?!? Sounds crazy, no?
Before proclaiming that you don’t understand the language, take heart. Legendary screen and stage actor Joel Grey, who helms this production, had the wisdom to include supertitles on both sides of the stage–both in Russian and English.
The result is a thrilling staging that adds earthy dimension to the story of Tevye (Steven Skybell), his wife Golde (Mary Illes), their five daughters, and a family’s struggle to maintain tradition–or “Traditsye”.
Through Jerry Bock‘s music and Sheldon Harnick‘s lyrics, there remains a timeless, universal quality to the piece. Skybell and Illess provide wonderful chemistry here. The ever funny Jackie Hoffman is serving her usual ham in a role she was born to play–that of Yente the Matchmaker.
The remaining cast is a joy to hear and an even more impressive sight to watch. Stas Kmiec‘s choreography is delivered with seamless effort. Although it’s clear that this is complex and challenging movement, each step is executed organically and joyously.
Zalmen Mlotek‘s 12 piece orchestra moves through this glorious score (with newer, more klezmer-like arrangements) with finesse behind scenic designer Beowulf Boritt’s sparse, but smartly constructed set.
More and more contemporary musicals offer a “happy-ever-after” finale. You won’t find one here–and yet you’ll still experience life in all of its’ pain and glory with a message that affirms your place in the world. As Tevye himself sings, “Life has a way of confusing us, blessing and bruising us. Drink. L’Chaim. To Life!”- (Please don’t ask this dim gentile for the Yiddish translation).
National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene’s production of Fiddler on the Roof. Now playing through August 28th at Museum of Jewish Heritage, 36 Battery Place, NYC. For tickets and information, click here.