Post Eagle Newspaper

Sunday

Jul 14, 2024

45°F, few clouds
New Jersey

Time Now

12:00:00

Paper Mill Playhouse Strikes Gold With Fiddler On The Roof

By Bob Nesoff

New Jersey has come up with a way to beat the cash-grab New York City is about to level on visitors to Mid-town Manhattan, called “Congestion Pricing.”

Theater-goers will be forced to pay upwards of an additional $15-plus dollars to attend a show, have dinner in a-fine restaurant or come in during heavy traffic days when the extortionate Congestion Pricing will go up. Add that to tolls coming in from the outer-boroughs, New Jersey, Connecticut and the evening expense could be in excess of $100 before starting.

New Jersey’s answer…Paper Mill Playhouse. In Millburn. Far less expensive and Broadway  quality performances.

Paper Mill has been honored with a Tony Award, the highest that may be presented and given to exceptionally few out-of-towners. The current production of “Fiddler On The Roof,” is an example of why New York Theaters should be losing revenue and Paper Mill attendees will benefit.

Fiddler, with Zero Mostel playing the lead role of Tevye The Milkman was fabulous when the show debuted in New York in 1964. It played for more than 3,000 performances, setting a record. He was followed by Topol, who was good, but not Mostel.

Jordan Gelber reprises the role at Paper Mill and would have been serious competition for Mostel. He is that good. In fact, that could be said for the entire cast. Critics usually look for the flaws so they can be a critic. They would have been hard put to do so here.

I was fortunate to have seen the original with Zero Mostel and thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ve seen reinventions of it over the years and none compared to this production. The original was directed and choreographed by the famed Jerome Robbins. “Full Disclosure,” I had a very distant connection to Robbins having dated his niece in college. That did not take away from the excitement of the show.

The opening prologue featuring the entire cast, was a rousing “Tradition,” explaining the concept of the Fiddler on the Roof. It literally had the entire audience stomping feet in tune with the music. That set the tone for the rest of the performance.

The story, in a nutshell, take place in the mythical Russian/Ukrainian village of Anatevka. Life there for the Jews is, well it’s like a “Fiddler on the Roof.” It’s a balancing act. They exist only with the passivity of the Russian overlords who, on occasion demand that they be attacked just for the hell of it. Of course the Russians apologize, saying they had no choice. Sound familiar?

If it does sound familiar, it could be transposed to modern day Israel and Gaza and the conflict going on there today. Or Ukraine.

Aside from the Russians Fiddler delves into the ordinary lives of the Jewish residents. Tevya deals with his horse throwing a show while he is trying to make his deliveries. One misfortune after another follows him until he looks skyward and sings the keynote song, “If I Were A Rich man.”

Yentel (Suzanne Grodner) the Matchmaker, was a depiction of the role played in several cultures where boys and girls were not permitted to pick their own mates. She plays the role to a perfect pitch of annoyance to the modern ear; and she does it hysterically.

She informs Tevya’s wife, Golda (Jill Abromovitz) that she has a match for their eldest daughter, Tzeitel to the wealthy butcher, who just happens to be decades older. But he has money and she has no dowry.  But she’s in love with the poor tailor Motel, thus setting up a moral dilemma for Tevye since he has been tricked by Golda into agreeing to the match.

Motel, the tailor, finally gets up the guts to tell Tevya, of whom he is terrified, that even a poor tailor has a right to happiness. You can guess how this turns out.

Set in or around 1905, prior to the Communist revolution, Perchik, a student who is an activist for equality and against the rich class, comes to town and, as you might guess, falls in love with one of Tevyas daughters (Hodel). They end up in Siberia after he is arrested by the Russian overlords, hoping to make it to America. If they do is left up to the audience’s imagination.

The big heart-wrenching situation is when one daughter (Chava) falls in love with a non-Jewish Russian (Fyedka). Tevya, as was the case with most Orthodox Jews (and orthodox of most religions) cannot accept such a union and declares her dead to the family.

The Russian government has declared that an “incident” must be taken place to keep the Jews in line and the night of Motel and Tzeitel wedding. The police come in to the reception ad begin destroying all the wedding presents. Their leader apologizes to Tevya, but the damage is not only done, but foretells what is to come.

Ultimately all the Jews are told they must sell their homes and belongings and leave Anatevka within days. The stress is unimaginable as they prepare.

One daughter in Siberia, one going to Poland, another going with them to exile, young daughters tagging along. The audience could feel the tension. And that is especially true with today’s Russian invasion of Ukraine and the Hamas terrorist attack in Israel and the subsequent all-out war there.

But it all is set to music and song. Fiddler could almost be classified as an operetta with songs and dance that enthralled the audience. They moved to the music and song and remained still and silent during the dramatic scenes. It was a riveting performance by each an everyone of the cast. The entire cast, professionals one and all, ae members of the Actors Equity Association, all Broadway qualified.

Tevya’s family is dispersed and even though they promise to reunite, they know there is no guarantee of that. If there is a missing piece between this presentation and the movie that was produced, it is as Tevya, Golda and the young daughters are on their horse-drawn wagon leaving town. Chava and her Russian husband, Fyedka try to speak with Tevya. Fyedka tells Tevya that he cannot stay where a government can bring such treatment to its people and he and Chava are moving to Poland.

Golda tries to talk to them, but Tevya looks straight ahead, not giving in. In the movie Tevya actually gives a side-eye glance to the intermarried couple that indicates he loves them. That did not happen on stage here.

The town is deserted. The Jews are gone, circling the stage as they exit stage left and right.

The audience was on its feet before curtain and the applause was deafening. Comments overheard on the way out confirmed the performance appreciated by the people. In short, as said before, it was arguably the best show at Paper Mill.

Fiddler will play until Jan. 7. If you have the time, make sure to see it. If you don’t have the time, make it.

Paper Mill is celebrating its 85 year this season, a record for most any theater. Upcoming shows this season are: After Midnight, Jan. 31-Feb. 25; Gun & Powder, ., April 4-May 5; and Beautiful The Carole King Musical, a major hit in New York, June 5-30.

For information Mapermill.org. Or call the box office at (973) 376-4343. Save money, tolls and drive time and head for Millburn and Paper Mill. You’ll see Broadway quality shows without the stress and expense.