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Coronavirus scuttles China tour for Yiddish ‘Fiddler on the Roof’

Read this article in Yiddish.

The Yiddish production of “Fiddler on the Roof” was scheduled to tour China this spring but has apparently fallen victim to coronavirus. On January 13th, cast members were informed via email of a three-city tour that would have taken place from April 13th to May 10th. But according to Zalmen Mlotek, artistic director of the National Yiddish Theater Folksbiene, four days later the tour was cancelled.

“After months of negotiations, we suddenly got a letter [saying the tour was off] that didn’t mention anything about the disease,” Mlotek said, speaking on the phone from Sydney, Australia, where he was auditioning actors and dancers for the Australian production of ‘Fiddler’ set to debut in early September. “But later, of course, we realized it was all because they knew something was going on.”

Mlotek called the cancellation of the China tour “a major disappointment for everybody.”

“The hope is that one day, please God, this virus will end and things will be back to normal in China and we’ll be able to do it,” he said.

Jumpstart Entertainment, the Manhattan theatrical management firm involved in coordinating the China tour, did not respond to requests for comment.

Mikhl Yashinsky, who played the characters of Nokhum and Mordkhe in “Fiddler,” decided to stay in New York after the show’s off-Broadway run concluded in January. A fluent Yiddish speaker who left a job teaching Yiddish at the University of Michigan to perform in the show, Yashinsky said he was disappointed but not heartbroken by the cancellation of the China tour, invoking the Passover song Dayenu in the process.

“It did seem like such a wonderful, unexpected, not of this world thing that we would be bringing Yiddish theater to China,” Yashinsky said. “But I feel that it would have been enough if we had just done the six weeks that we were originally contracted to do at the museum. But to be extended for a year and then to move to a different theater in Midtown, that would have been enough. To play there for a few months, as we were meant to but then get to play there a whole year, well, dayenu.”.

The Australian production of “Fiddler” starts with a two-month run at the 1,400-seat Joan Sutherland Theatre, which is part of the iconic Sydney Opera House. Then there will be a five-week run at the 1,000 seat Comedy Theatre in Melbourne.

Mlotek was accompanied on his recent visit down under by Stas Kmiec, the show’s choreographer, and Merete Meunter, who will serve as the associate director of the Australian production. The director of “Fiddler,” Joel Grey, will direct the Australian company but had to miss the auditions in February after he was tapped to act in a new Hulu series about the CIA, which also stars John Lithgow and Jeff Bridges. Grey plays a former head of the CIA in the series, which is currently shooting in Pasadena, CA.

Over the course of two weeks, Mlotek, Kmiec, Meunter and a couple of Australians theater staffers auditioned close to 400 actors in Sydney and Melbourne. A significant percentage of the actors who auditioned had some Yiddish ability, according to Mlotek.

Mlotek said that if the Australian production is successful, it could spark interest in an Asian and European tour by the American cast.

“I’m confident that the level of the production [in Australia] will be at least as high as in New York because I’m so inspired by the talent I’ve seen,” he said. “Once we break that barrier of doing [the show] outside of New York, other markets will look at it even more seriously.”

Mlotek declined to comment on rumors of a possible U.S. tour, including a stop in L.A. but some cast members say they’re hopeful an American tour will happen eventually.

“Joel and the whole team said that [if the U.S. tour comes through] they really want the whole cast to come together, if they can, at least for the opening of the national tour,” said Samantha Hahn, who played Beylke, the youngest daughter of Tevye the milkman.

Hahn, who is 21, was not planning to do the China tour because she is majoring in musical theater at the Manhattan School of Music. She also has an ongoing gig as a voice actor: she plays Trinket the talking unicorn in “Nella the Princess Knight,” an animated children’s series on Nick Jr.

Hahn says she is convinced a China tour is going to happen at some point. And apparently, so does Joel Grey. Asked if he believes the production will tour Europe and Asia as Mlotek predicted, Joel said: “Why not? Tomorrow the world!”


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