Off-Broadway Review: National Yiddish Folksbiene’s “Fiddler on the Roof” at the Museum of Jewish Heritage

Off-Broadway Review: National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene’s “Fiddler on the Roof” at the Museum of Jewish Heritage (Extended through Sunday December 30, 2018)
Book by Joseph Stein
Music by Jerry Bock
Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick
Directed by Joel Grey
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

There is considerable Jewish culture captured in the musical “Fiddler on the Roof” the iconic musical that has won a respectable reputation in theater history. Since it first opened on Broadway in 1964 to win nine TONY awards, “Fiddler” went on to become the longest running Broadway musical. Since that original production, there have been five Broadway revivals. The collaboration of Joseph Stein (book), Jerry Bock (music) and Sheldon Harnick (lyrics) resulted in one of the best musicals of the American Theater. However, the Yiddish version, translated by Shraga Friedman over fifty years ago, has never been performed in the United States and is now having its premiere, produced by National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. The production is deftly directed by Joel Grey with exciting musical staging and culturally influenced choreography by Stas Kmiec. Oh, what a production it is!

This present revival is as simple as the inhabitants of the fictional Russian shtetl, Anatevka, as powerful as their religious convictions, and shines a bright light on the emotional and poignant struggle of facing a new and sometimes bitter world. Freeing itself from the burden of extravagance, it manifests a certain reality that pulls the audience in, so they become a part of the tightknit community. It is beyond suspension of disbelief, as it creates an actuality that transfers the spectator to another time and place to share in joyous celebration and an onerous plight. Past productions of this work are usually dominated by the musical numbers which have endured a life of their own but in this present incarnation, they are so well integrated that they appear as part of everyday life and the mantra of “tradition.”

Steven Skybell brings a solid, reverent and practical Tevye to this production, brimming with conflict, humor and honesty which rings true to the everyman, regardless of race, color or creed. His charming baritone reflects his characters wisdom and vulnerability. All this plays well off the stern and stoic Golde as portrayed by the layered performance of Mary Illes, who manages to redeem the nearly as impenetrable character with waves of compassion. Jackie Hoffman infuses matchmaker Yente with consistent welcomed humor that purposely disguises a woman who is alone and lonely. Rachel Zatcoff is an assertive Tsaytl devoted to the impoverished tailor Motl, enacted with a timorous innocence by Daniel Kahn. The rebellious Hodl is brought to life with a solid conviction by Stephanie Lynne Mason demonstrating determined energy and a steadfast commitment to an unexpected romance. The curious Khave, is given a thirst for knowledge by the wholesome and fearless Rosie Jo Neddy. She is the most adventuresome daughter, crossing religious and cultural boundaries to elope and marry a Christian, Fyedke, a stalwart and intelligent Cameron Johnson.

The entire twenty-six-member cast is wonderful and works diligently to reach the core of this story in the native Yiddish language which proves to authenticate the time and place. They are supported by a wonderful twelve-piece orchestra conducted by Zalmen Moitek, which fills the space with memorable melodies. This production is not perfect yet and can be tweaked here and there but it is certainly on the way. It is purely a demonstration of the incredible power of theater. Kudos to the entire cast and creative team for collaborating to present a cogent, emotional and entertaining production. Mazel Tov!