Yiddish ‘Fiddler’ Will Close In The New Year – Here’s All Of The Forward’s Coverage Of The Groundbreaking Revival
After an 18-month run split between Battery Park and Off-Broadway, the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene’s Yiddish production of “Fiddler on the Roof” will take its final bow on January 5, 2020.
But the show’s departure should be cause for celebration. Like the Hanukkah oil, the show’s footlights burned longer than anyone anticipated, with the award-winning production extending its sold-out run beyond its initial limited engagement at the Museum of Jewish Heritage.
Directed by Joel Grey, the production snagged a 2019 Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Musical Revival, a Drama Desk for the same as well as a special citation from the New York Drama Critics’ Circle. Naturally the Forward, staffed by Sholem Aleichem and “Fiddler” stans, was covering the show before all these plaudits, from the first murmurs that it was waiting in the wings, to the celebrity attendees to the ripples the show’s Yiddishkeit revival sent throughout the Jewish community.
In April of 2018, shortly before the July debut of the production, Deputy Culture Editor Talya Zax, sat in for the dance auditions, watching the prospective Tzeitels and Motels practice all the “knee stuff” that goes into the hora choreography. Zax later wrote a poignant and personal review of the show’s “bittersweet portrait of Jewish joy.”
Forward contributor and “Fiddler” expert Alisa Solomon traced the history of the show’s Yiddish translation in a Rockower Award-winning feature. And when the show debuted, Forverts editor Rukhl Schaechter wrote a moving piece about the production’s verisimilitude and her own Yiddish-speaking childhood.
“Yiddler,” as the production became known colloquially, soon took off, leaving its first stage at the Edmond J. Safra Hall for the Off-Broadway haunts at Stage 42. There, SNL cast favorite Kate McKinnon and legendary Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg took in Jerry Bock’s soaring score — on the same night!
But perhaps no performance of the show was as meaningful as the one from June 20, 2019, World Refugee Day, when, as Deputy Life Editor Jenny Singer reported, 500 refugees were in attendance.
Not all of the talk of “Fiddler” has been particularly germane to this production, of course. Current events involving the arrest of two Soviet-born associates of Rudolf Giuliani, who are on the board of a charity called American Friends of Anatevka, have kept the name of the show’s shtetl in our pages. This, while a “Fiddler” documentary played to rave reviews this summer.
Steven Skybell, who won a Lucille Lortel award for his performance as Tevye, spoke movingly in Slate of playing the role in the aftermath of the Pittsburgh and Poway shootings.
“In ‘If I Were a Rich Man,’ the sweetest moment, the sweetest aspect, of Tevye’s dream is that if he were rich, he could sit in shul all day and go three times a day,” Skybell told Slate’s Isaac Butler. “That is turned on its ear when you see that a synagogue is not necessarily a safe place. So that became so bittersweet to me. That is where a Jew wants to be, and yet there’s no guarantee that that won’t end in horror.”
Coming up on the yahrzeit of Pittsburgh, we would appear to need a show like “Fiddler” more than ever. We are sad to see it go.
But it is not the end of the road for the milkman and his daughters. The Folksbiene is organizing tours, the Forverts reported, with an Australian production slated to open in September at the Sydney Opera House – quite a way from Anatevka!
PJ Grisar is the Forward’s culture fellow. He can be reached at Grisar@Forward.com.