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Review Roundup: What Did the Critics Think of Joel Grey's Yiddish FIDDLER ON THE ROOF?


Fiddler on the Roof

The highly anticipated American premiere of the Yiddish language Fiddler on the Roof, presented by the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene (NYTF) opened last night, Sunday, July 15. Helmed by Academy Award and Tony Award winner Joel Grey, the acclaimed musical is being presented for an 8-week limited engagement through August 26.

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Jesse Green, New York Times: ... But when the production hitches a ride on the astonishing craft of the original, it is often thrilling. Mr. Skybell gives us an unusually strong sense of Tevye's improvisational morality, which intensifies the drama of his rejection of Khave to an almost terrifying degree. Ms. Illes is dignified even when henpecking and, like Mr. Skybell, contributes much to the haunting beauty of Jerry Bock's score. (The music direction is by Zalmen Mlotek.) Ms. Hoffman, eschewing her usual scene-stealing antics, fills the role of Yente without overflowing it. All this alone would make a very nice "Fiddler," not a truly profound one. But for those who grew up around Yiddish, its use here will likely strike a deep emotional chord. For me, it's not just the fusillade of familiar words and phrases: meshuga, geklempt, zay geznunt. It is the sound of my own grandparents and all they lost in leaving their Anatevkes.

Tim Teeman, The Daily Beast: In his direction of the Folksbiene production, the Oscar- and Tony Award-winning actor and director Joel Grey sensitively gleans the right amount of comedy and drama, and knockabout humor and gnarlier pathos, from the text without overindulging any extreme. This is the story of a family and small community going through the formative and personal challenges of life, while an even bigger change is about to hit them-the order that they leave their home, uproot themselves, or die.

Matt Windman, amNY: Many people probably know "Fiddler" so well that they have no need to look at the supertitles in order to follow the story. Nevertheless, the supertitles are interesting because they do not always reflect the original English lyrics. For instance, "If I Were a Rich Man" now reads "If I Were a Rothschild," referencing the wealthy and prominent Jewish family of the period... Considering that "Fiddler" brings to life a Jewish community that was ripped apart due to violent anti-Semitism, the musical enriches the museum and the museum enriches the musical. As Yente would say, it's a perfect match.

Jordan Hoffman, The Times of Israel: There are times in life where something seems so obvious you can't believe it hasn't happened before. The most recent example for me took place at New York's Museum of Jewish History, during the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene's production of "Fiddler on the Roof. "The lights dimmed, I turned off my phone and then it hit me: How am I only seeing this now?

David Barbour, Lighting and Sound America: It is fascinating how much the context of a production can affect its impact. Joel Grey's revival of Fiddler on the Roof has its ups and downs -- more of the former than the latter, I hasten to add -- but experiencing it in Yiddish, in a production at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, makes for a singularly powerful experience: It is both a homecoming of sorts and a threnody for a once-thriving culture that might be entirely lost if not for companies such as National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene. Under the circumstances, a deeply moving musical theatre classic acquires an even greater emotional intensity.

Raven Snook, Time Out New York: English translations are projected for the benefit of those who don't know Yiddish, and many of the performers aren't fluent in the language, either (they have learned their lines phonetically, much as opera singers often do). But director Joel Grey-yes, that Joel Grey-has made sure the performers know what they're feeling, even if they don't know what they're saying, and their emotional journeys are so clear you may find yourself abandoning the oddly placed supertitles to luxuriate in the sound of the language and the klezmer-inflected score, played by a lively 12-piece orchestra.

Steven Suskin, New York Theatre Review: Our question today, though, is: What's the worth of this new Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish-directed by Joel Grey, of all people-to those of us who don't speak the language? Yiddish, I'm afraid, is Greek to me and to the great portion of potential theatergoers. The quick answer is that the Folksbiene gives full value; that is, this production flavorfully brings out the full value of the material.

Photo Credit: Genevieve Rafter-Keddy

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