photo of curtain on stage

Fidler Afn Dakhwas is the True Fiddler on the Roof by Merle Exit

A Fiddler on the Roof. Sounds meshuga, no? National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene presented a fresh Yiddish version of one of the most famous Broadway shows with both Yiddish and Russian translations at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. This is the first time that this production has been staged in the US and who more perfect to direct it than Joel Grey. The title of the production appears as “Fidler Afn Dakhwas.”

Having been seated I viewed the stage to see: a small pile of tables on the left and three hanging curtains that gave an appearance that they were made of a light brown cloth. The middle one had large letters written in Yiddish that spelled out the word, “Torah.”

“Fidler Afn Dakhwas first performed in Israel in 1965. This production marks the premiere in the United States. The translation directly quotes Sholom Aleichem’s original stories of “Tevye the Dairy Man”’ most notably during Tevye’s quotations (and misquotations) of the scriptures.

Translations in both Yiddish and Russian appeared on the left and right sides at the top of the stage. Each of the musical numbers gives the title in Yiddish along with the English title in parenthesis. The play is set in Russia, 1905.

The show begins as Der Fidler appears and perks herself atop the tables. This is the first time I have seen a woman cast as the Fiddler. She actually comes onto the stage and plays the fiddle several times during the performance, which kind of makes more sense to the title.

Out comes Tevye to perform Traditsye (Tradition) as we meet the entire cast. Tevye is portrayed by a quite talented Steven Skybell who captures the character perfectly being “larger than life” but without overdoing it playing the role more intense and solemn in both acting and singing. Skybell is not new to Broadway or Fiddler as he had the role of Lazar Wolf in the 2015 revival. My guess is that he will be well-known for this role.

Golde (Jennifer Babiak) was well cast. Although she gave an excellent performance, I couldn’t help but notice that her costume seemed to make her appear as if she escaped from the Sound of Music, looking like a nun. Babiak will stay in cast as Golda.

While Emmy-nominated stage veteran Jackie Hoffman does not work with the Yiddish Theater, she was the feature performer playing the role of Yenta, one which requires both humor and great facial expressions.

As for the rest of the cast, it’s just easy enough to say that the caliber was as if you had seen it on Broadway. Singing, dancing, acting…all great. What I particularly noticed is that this production is not played for laughs but is certainly not void of humor. Kudos to Joel Grey.

My favorite production in Fidler is Der Kholem (The Dream) of which Tevye concocts in order to tell Golde that their daughter, Hodl, is going to marry Motl Kamzoyl (Ben Liebert) rather than the verbally agreed upon butcher Leyzer-Wolf.

Even though this production is more intimate than its Broadway version, none of the characters are missing and each of the dance numbers did not lack due to size. Most impressive are Lekhayim (To Life, Lekhavyim) and the Bottle Dance performed during the wedding. We have to thank Stas Kmiec who both choreographed and staged the musical numbers. It is also apparent that not having a celebrity “Broadway name” detracts from the shear talent that goes into this awesome presentation.

The orchestra, conducted by Zalmen Mlotek, consisted of: trumpets, bass, flute, alto flute, trombone, cello, guitar/mandolin, drums/percussion, accordion, and violin along with the clarinet Klezmer soloist, D. Zisl Slepovitch, who made a few appearances on the stage.

I have seen Fiddler on the Roof on Broadway as well as the movie version. I have even acted the part of Yenta in Community Theater and as Golde in a Dinner Theatre production. Fidler Afn Dakhwas has been the best I’ve experienced and from the sound of the audience, they too agree.

With so much anti-semitism presently existing, expect many tears to shed, especially towards the end. “Our forefathers have been forced out of many, many places at a moment’s notice.” Tevye responds: “Maybe that’s why we always wear our hats.”

The show is now being performed at off-Broadway’s Stage 42 (422 W 42nd St.) where it will begin previews on Monday, February 11, 2019 and open officially on Thursday, February 21, 2019.  Running time is 3 hours with one 15-minute inter-pish-ion.

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