The Latest

THE LATEST

THE LATEST THINKING

THE LATEST THINKING

The opinions of THE LATEST’s guest contributors are their own.

Fiddler on the Roof-- in Yiddish

Ellen Levitt

Posted on October 15, 2018 11:36

2 users

My daughter and I saw the beloved classic musical Fiddler on the Roof, but performed in Yiddish, not in English. It was a fascinating experience and intriguing to experience it in a different language that actually reflected the origins of the story.

In late August I attended a lively lecture about the beloved classical musical Fiddler on the Roof. After that my younger daughter and I decided to attend a performance of it staged at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, by the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene.

People are familiar with Fiddler on the Roof from having seen the 1971 film version, or hit stage versions, as well as amateur productions and the well-known songs such as "Tradition," "Sunrise, Sunset" and "To Life". Seeing it performed entirely in Yiddish is an intriguing experience, because Fiddler is based upon stories written in Yiddish by Sholem Aleichem.

Yiddish is a hybrid language largely composed of Hebrew and German, with elements of Aramaic, Slavic and Romance languages. Some Yiddish words have become part of English, including chutzpah, klutz, nosh and bagel. But Yiddish language media is not commonplace in the United States today, and may be best known via the 1975 film Hester Street.

The current Yiddish version of Fiddler was first performed in 1965 in Israel, and some of the translated dialogue and lyrics differ from what American audiences know. ("If I Were A Rich Man" becomes "A Rotshild" (Rotschild) here.) This staging is the first of its kind in the US, and subtitles are provided on two large screens, in both English and Russian. Noted actor Joel Grey is the director and while there are no major stars in the cast, among the acclaimed actors are Jackie Hoffman as Yente the Matchmaker. 

Overall this is a very spirited production and theater-goers experience the familiar anew. The set and props are relatively spare, and the orchestra is on the stage, hidden behind the actors by curtains. Steven Skybell as Tevye, the central figure, is somewhat rougher than that portrayed by Zero Mostel and Topol in their classic versions. Jennifer Babiak as his wife Golde has a pretty voice, as compared to some of the kitschier versions that have sometimes been staged. 

Another surprise is that the Fiddler, a non-speaking role, is here played by a woman. A large paper-like curtain with the word "Torah" spelled in Hebrew is center-stage, and used in both subtle and shocking ways: it is meant to be a touchstone to the traditions sung and depicted, and is later ripped violently by a Russian soldier near the end of Act One. During Act Two the Torah curtain is shown with ragged repair stitching. This is also a nod to both how a traditional Torah scroll is sewn, as well as to the role of Motl the Tailor, who marries Tevye's eldest daughter Tsatyl. 

The L'chaim/To Life dance and the wedding Bottle Dance are among the show's highlights, and the singing was always touching.

I'm not fluent in Yiddish (more so in Hebrew) but followed the show easily, even catching certain Scriptural quotations that the subtitles glossed over. My daughter was comfortable following the subtitles, familiar with their use in Anime. We adored this Yiddish Fiddler!

Ellen Levitt

Posted on October 15, 2018 11:36

Comments

comments powered by Disqus
Source: NYT

Joel Grey, center, directing Steven Skybell, left, who plays Tevye, and Bruce Sabath, right, who plays Leyzer-Volf, in the...

THE LATEST THINKING

Video Site Tour

The Latest
The Latest

Subscribe to THE LATEST Newsletter.

The Latest
The Latest

Share this TLT through...

The Latest