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From Sholem Aleichem and Chagall to the Fiddler on the Roof: A short glossary of historical events, characters, and actors
By Henrik Eger


For lovers of theatre arts and the Walnut Street Theatre, Philadelphia

Fiddler on the Roof is one of the best conceptualized, written, and composed musicals in theatre history. Based on the stories of Sholem Aleichem, it deals with life from as wide and broad a range of perspectives as could be found in musical theatre, including “persecution, poverty, and the struggle to hold on to one's beliefs in the midst of a hostile and chaotic environment.” This musical of musicals was performed in a magnificent production at the Walnut Street Theatre Philadelphia, the oldest theatre with the largest subscriber base in the United States.

Below, a glossary for lovers of this extraordinary gesamtkunstwerk, the complete work that combines all the arts.

1. 1905: the year in which the Fiddler on the Roof takes place. War and chaos leads to uprisings against the Russian Tsar. Over one hundred thousand people die. Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, and many other thinkers present new ideas and change perceptions and worldviews. The old world is making way for a new century, catching Tevye the milkman between two clashing and opposing forces:

(1) the inner challenge to his firm belief in Jewish culture and religious practices, presented by his daughters who do not follow the old traditions, and
(2) the external threat by the Russians, who associate Jews with everything that is not working in Russia and therefore harass and then destroy the shtetl, forcing the inhabitants of Anatevka to leave the land for good.

2. Aleichem, Sholem (1859-1916): pseudonym of Sholem Naumovich Rabinovich, important Yiddish author and playwright. Born in the Ukraine, the young Sholem experienced Russian Haskalah (Jewish Enlightenment), and contemporary ways of looking at traditional Judaism.

According to the Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature, published by the Jewish Virtual Library, Aleichem “began writing in Hebrew, [even though] his first ‘serious work’—a dictionary of the curses employed by stepmothers—was written in Yiddish. He explained the pseudonym as a guise to conceal his identity from his relatives, especially his father, who loved Hebrew. In those days, Yiddish literature [was] greatly despised by the maskilim (enlightened) who wrote in Hebrew and the Jewish intelligentsia in Russia who spoke Russian. [This situation] led Yiddish authors to write under pseudonyms or to publish their works anonymously.”
However, thanks to writers like Aleichem, Yiddish experienced such a renaissance in the early part of the 20th century that literary critic Irving Howe observed, "Every Jew who could read Yiddish, whether he was orthodox or secular, conservative or radical, loved Sholem Aleichem, for he heard in his stories the charm and melody of a common shprakh, the language that bound all together."

Editor-in-chief of MyJewishLearning, Daniel Septimus, outlined the development from Aleichem’s Yiddish stories to one of the world’s most beloved musicals: “The dramatic version of Tevye's Daughters has been performed by the finest Yiddish actors, and in the 1960s these sketches formed the basis of the stage and film musical, Fiddler on the Roof.” 

3. Anatevka: fictitious small town or shtetl in Eastern Europe, home of Tevye, the main character of Fiddler on the Roof, and his family, neighbors, and friends.

4. Aronson, Boris (1900-1980): son of the Grand Rabbi of Kiev, Ukraine, growing up in a privileged family during revolutionary times, he studied art and design in Moscow where he encountered Marc Chagall who had painted and designed the sets for Sholem Aleichem plays at the Jewish Kamerny Theatre. Inspired by the great painter, Aronson moved to Berlin where he published a book about Chagall’s work in 1923. Eventually, Aronson emigrated from Germany to the United States where he became a well-known designer in the flourishing Yiddish theatre world of New York.

In 1964, the Ukrainian immigrant collaborated with producer Harold Prince and choreographer Jerome Robbins who commissioned Aronson to design the set for the first production of the musical The Fiddler on the Roof in the style of Marc Chagall's paintings. Aronson, deeply connected to his and Chagall’s Jewish roots in Eastern Europe, confessed, “It was the emotion of Chagall’s paintings I tried to incorporate into FIDDLER. Chagall [. . .] takes Anatevka with him wherever he goes. I only got to do it once.”

5. Ashkenazi Jews: the group of Jews that lived in Eastern Europe, including the fictitious inhabitants of Anatevka (fine overview of the Askhenazim by Shira Schoenberg )

6. Avram: the bookseller, brings in news from the outside world about pogroms and expulsions—played convincingly by Fran Prisco.

7. Bock, Jerry (born in 1928): composer of Fiddler on the Roof: During their 14-year partnership with Stein, “in 1964, Bock and Harnock debuted the biggest success of their careers: Fiddler on the Roof. That score, with such songs as ‘Matchmaker, Matchmaker,’ ‘If I Were a Rich Man,’ and ‘Sunrise, Sunset,’ insinuated itself into American popular culture as no musical since West Side Story and it proved a difficult act to follow,” according to music critic Bruce Eder.

8. Broadway: center of professional American theatrical productions in one of forty professional New York theatres on or near Broadway in Manhattan. The original New York production of Fiddler on the Roof was soon joined by many other productions in most of the major cities in the western world and beyond. In its heyday, The Fiddler on the Roof became what was then the longest running show in the history of Broadway.

9. Chagall, Marc (1887–1985): famous Russian-Jewish artist, born Mooshie Shagal, rendered in Russian as Mark Zakharovich Shagalov, worked in multiple genres, and left Russia to work in France. “The actual title [of Fiddler on the Roof] is a reference to a wall panel Marc Chagall created for the Moscow State Yiddish Theater in 1920. After he left Russia in 1922, Chagall made a copy for himself called The Green Violinist. Throughout his life, painter Marc Chagall drew upon his Jewish roots for inspiration. Chagall derived much of his artistic sensibility from his shtetl childhood. In The Green Violinist, Chagall evoked his homeland. His cultural and religious legacy is illuminated by the figure of the violinist dancing in a rustic village. The Hasidim of Chagall’s childhood believed it possible to achieve communion with God through music and dance, and the fiddler was a vital presence in ceremonies and festivals,” as Carol Bayley pointed out.

10. Constable: a local Russian official who likes Tevye and even warns him of bad things to come, but has orders to get Russian soldiers to harass and beat up the villagers, and eventually pillage Anatevka to force the Jewish population out of their little shtetl permanently—a psychologically difficult role of a man torn between personal feelings and the demands of the State, played powerfully by Dan Olmstead.

“Constable: You're an honest, decent person. Even though you are a Jew.
Tevye: Thank you, your honor. You are a good man. If I may say so, it's too bad you're not a Jew.
Constable: [laughs] That's what I like about you, Tevye. You're always joking.”

11. Design Team: some of the design stars at the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia: Costume (Colleen Grady), Lighting (Jack Jacobs), Scenery (John Farrell), Sound (Nick Kourtides) whose collaborative work contributed greatly to this American gesamtkunstwerk.

12. Ensemble and Extras: two dozen talented people who blended beautifully and often took on different roles.

13. Fiddler on the Roof: the one-man Jewish chorus with his violin, sitting on top of the floating roof in the little shtetl, who, like a Greek chorus, musically expresses the collective conscience of the village. He accompanies the people of Anatevka during their times of joy, but also their times of deepest distress—performed with great skill by Alex Sovronsky, talented Jewish actor/musician/composer whose family fled Russia and Belarus a hundred years ago. Sovronsky is probably the only Fiddler in America who plays a violin which once belonged to a musician in Hitler’s orchestra.

14. Frumah Sarah: butcher Lazar Wolf's dead wife, who rises from the grave—played by Jennie Eisenhower, the great-granddaughter of President Eisenhower and granddaughter of President Nixon, who rises with such impressive power, vigor, and conviction that she appeared almost like a female golem who frightened Tevye’s wife.

“Fruma Sarah: How could you allow it, How? How could you let your daughter take my place? Live in my house, carry my keys, and wear my clothes, pearls, how?”

15. Fyedka: a young, non-Jewish Russian who protects Chava, Tevye’s book-loving daughter, from his aggressive fellow Russian soldiers, and falls in love with her, even though their eventual marriage leads to a total rejection of the bride by her father because she married outside the Jewish religion—Fyedka, a great character and one of the most convincing suitors, played beautifully by Christopher Brian Williams.

“Fyedka: [introducing himself to Chava] I'm a pleasant fellow, charming, honest, ambitious, quite bright, and very modest.”

16. Gaudette, Michelle: dancer/choreographer, known for her beauty and her balletic choreography, followed in the footsteps of the Jerome Robbins original in the Walnut Street Theatre production.

17. Grandma Tzeitel: Golde's dead grandmother, returned from the grave, a small role—but played convincingly by Gianna Yanello. The famous Costume World Theatrical offers this costume option to actors: “Long, gray wispy hooded shrouds with gray and brown stains,” adding, “When ordering, please state if the actor is afoot or on another actor's shoulders.”

18. Harnick, Sheldon (born in 1924): Lyricist, prolific writer, who, according to the Songwriters Hall of Fame, was known for his “wry, subtle humor and deft wordplay.” He translated a number of Yiddish songs, and spent several years “working on other writers' trouble-plagued Broadway-bound musicals before [he] joined up with composer Jerry Bock” to write their own musicals, including Fiddler on the Roof, which became one of the world’s most popular masterpieces.

19. Havard, Bernard: producing Artistic Director of the Walnut Street Theatre, America’s oldest theatre, with a subscription base larger than that of any other theatre in the U.S., and one sold-out production after another, even during economically difficult times.

20. Jacoby, Mark: actor/singer, probably the slimmest, most modern Tevye for miles in Sholem Aleichem Land who still connected with old Jewish traditions and dances, a man in touch with his vulnerabilities as a poor milkman with many responsibilities, acting more like a revitalized Job who is given another chance than a heavy but jovial Falstaff.

21. Lazar Wolf: a widowed, wealthy butcher, older than Tevye, wants to marry Tzeitel, the milkman’s eldest daughter. Still hung over, Tevye announces that he has agreed to the deal with the rich old man. While Tzeitel despairs, her mother Golde cannot contain her joy that her daughter will marry a wealthy man. Stood up only a few weeks before the wedding to the young bride under a traditional chuppa, Bill van Horn as the disappointed Lazar Wolf, showed a wonderful wide range of hope, despair, anger, and begrudging joy—a great actor.

“Tevye: [to Lazar Wolf] I always wanted a son, but I wanted one a little younger than myself.”

“Tevye: Where are you going?
Lazar Wolf: Chicago. In America.
Tevye: Chicago, America? We are going to New York, America. We'll be neighbors.”

22. Lumpkin, Bruce: Barrymore Award-winning “Best Director” who successfully directed most American musicals in many different theatres, including his fine production of Fiddler on the Roof at the Walnut Street Theatre. Lumpkin presented a different ending of the play with the Fiddler not following Tevye and the rest of his family, but staying behind, symbolically in support of those Jews who didn’t know that worse was yet to come.

23. Lutz, Douglas G.: prolific, popular musical director with over 125 musical productions across the United States and overseas under his baton, including major musical productions at the Walnut Street Theatre.

24. Mendel: traditional, jealous young villager who wants to marry Tevye’s daughter Hodel before she falls in love with Perchik—played with great feelings by Nicholas Park, one of the youngest, but also one of the promising new Philadelphia actors.

“Tevye: As the good book says, when a poor man eats a chicken, one of them is sick.
Mendel: Where does the book say that?
Tevye: Well, it doesn't say that exactly, but somewhere there is something about a chicken.”

“Tevye: As Abraham said, ‘I am a stranger in a strange land . . .’
Mendel: Moses said that.
Tevye: Ah. Well, as King David said, ’I am slow of speech, and slow of tongue.’
Mendel: That was also Moses.
Tevye: For a man who was slow of tongue, he talked a lot.”

25. Mezuzah: “Hebrew for‎ ‘doorpost’, a piece of parchment, often contained in a decorative case, inscribed with specified Hebrew verses from the Torah, affixed to the doorframe in Jewish homes to fulfill the mitzvah (Biblical commandment) to inscribe the words of the Shema ‘on the doorposts of your house’ (Deuteronomy 6:9), to imply that God and the Torah (which the mezuzah symbolizes) are entering the room. This applies to Jews living in the Diaspora (i.e., outside of the Land of Israel). The reason for this difference is that there is an assumption that when a Jew lives in Israel, Israel shall remain his/her permanent residence, whereas a home in the Diaspora is temporary” (Wikipedia).

Clearly, the Walnut Street Theatre had consulted with Jewish experts and not only placed the mezuzah in the correct spot on the doorframe to Tevye’s house, but also made sure that everyone who entered the house touched the mezuzah in the traditional way. However, this entrance was constructed in such a way that when the Russians began to destroy the village, the doorframe in Tevye’s house now looked like the gallows, set against a burning sky—an eerie picture and symbolic of the many murders of Jews in Russia and other countries.

26. Mordcha: simple but witty owner of the local inn where Tevye and Lazar first misunderstood each other, then became buddies over the intended marriage of Lazar to one of Tevye’s daughters. When the two men started to fight, Mordcha acted as a peacemaker—played with great panache by one of Philadelphia’s favorite actors, the multi-talented Ben Dibble.
“Mordcha: If the rich could hire others to die for them we, the poor, would all make a nice living.
Mordcha: May the authorities be like onions with their heads in the ground!
Mordcha: May the Czar have his own personal plague!”

27. Motel: a shy, unassuming, young, impoverished tailor who wants to marry Tzeitel, one of Tevye’s daughters, and whose earnestness and innermost goodness have moved people around the world—played with such conviction by Marcus Stevens that people flocked to him afterwards to shake hands.

“Motel: Times are changing, Reb. Tevye. The thing is, over a year ago, your daughter, Tzeitel, and I gave each other our pledge that we would marry.
Tevye: You gave each other a . . . pledge?
Tzeitel: Yes, Papa. We gave each other our pledge.”

28. Nachum: the beggar who, together with the matchmaker and the Rabbi, gets acknowledged personally by Tevye. Dave Mussen played the down-and-out with great dignity.

29. Perchik: the politically active, educationally conscious, and delightful young teacher, “a former Kiev University scholar who arrives in a Russian village and charms milkman Tevye into taking him into his home to teach his five daughters, subsequently winning Hodel's heart, although his radicalism concerns the tightly knit Jewish community in social, religious and political ways. Eventually he is jailed in Siberia, and Hodel leaves on a train to be with him”—played so convincingly by the dashing Nick Dalton that some people were searching for him afterwards, apparently relieved that he was back from Siberia.

“Perchik: In this world it is the rich who are the criminals. Someday their wealth will be ours.
Tevye: That would be nice. If they would agree, I would agree.

Perchik: Money is the world's curse.
Tevye: May the Lord smite me with it. And may I never recover.”

“Tevye: And until your golden day comes, Perchik, How will you live?
Perchik: By giving lessons to children, Do you have any children?
Tevye: I have five daughters
Perchik: [Looking to Tevye in disbelief] Five?
Tevye: Daughters . . .
Perchik: girls can learn too, girls are people
Mendel: A radical!”

“Perchik: I'm a very good teacher.
Hodel: I heard that the Rabbi who must praise himself has a congregation of one.”

“Perchik: A certain question I want to discuss with you.
Perchik: It's a political question.
Perchik: The question o . . . marriage.
Hodel: Is this a political question?
Perchik: Well, yes. Yes, everything's political. Like everything else, the relationship between a man and a woman has a socioeconomic base. Marriage must be founded on mutual beliefs. A common attitude and philosophy towards society . . .
Hodel: And affection?
Perchik: Well, yes, of course. That is also necessary. Such a relationship can have positive social values. When two people face the world with unity and solidarity . . .
Hodel: And affection?
Perchik: Yes, that is an important element! At any rate, I . . . I personally am in favour of such a socioeconomic relationship.
Hodel: you are asking me to marry you.
Perchik: yes. I am.
Hodel: I was hoping you were.”

30. Prince, Harold (born in 1928): producer of the original Fiddler on the Roof at the Imperial Theatre on Broadway, September 22, 1964, famed, larger-than-life American theatrical producer and director, responsible for many of the best-known Broadway musical productions of the past five decades. The icon of Broadway was awarded 21 Tony Awards, more than any other individual. Many of his shows present a political context and a strong social consciousness. The Prince Music Theatre in Philadelphia is named after him.

31. Rabbi: described by Tevye as “our beloved Rabbi,” tottering but wise, old country rabbi, played movingly in that Sholem Aleichemian mode by veteran actor Lee Golden.

“Lebisch: Is there a proper blessing . . . for the Tsar?
Rabbi: A blessing for the Tsar? Of course! May God bless and keep the Tsar . . . far away from us!”

32. Robbins, Jerome (1918–1998): Born Jerome Wilson Rabinowitz, a family name which translates to “son of a rabbi,” a name Robbins never liked, since it marked him as the son of Jewish immigrants, he took the name "Robbins." As a young stage artist, he “choreographed many dramatic pieces with controversial ideas about race, lynching, and wars” (Wikipedia).

In the early 1950’s, suspected of Communist sympathies, he was called to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Threatened with the exposure of his homosexuality, “Robbins named more names than any other HUAC witness” (Wikipedia).

According to Joan Acocella of the New Yorker, “He studied acting, went to the Actors Studio, and knew Yiddish theatre, vaudeville, and Broadway inside out.” She concluded, “Robbins was the most acclaimed and successful American-born choreographer of the mid-century.”

His work included the original productions of The King And I, Gypsy, West Side Story, and Fiddler on the Roof. He worked with some of the best choreographers and composers, including George Balanchine and Leonard Bernstein. His influence is such that many choreographers all over the United States base some of their work on Robbins’ choreography.

33. Russian Revolution: the historical background to Fiddler on the Roof which shows that even a small town like (the imaginary) Anatevka suffered the consequences of the unrest and violence in Tsarist Russia. One of the great upheavals in modern European history, the Russian revolution of 1905 became the forerunner of the Revolution in 1917 which changed Russia and led to the murder of millions of people and to over half a century of turmoil all over Europe.

“The 1905 Russian Revolution was a wave of mass political unrest through vast areas of the Russian Empire. Some of it was directed against the government, while some was undirected. It included terrorism, worker strikes, peasant unrest, and military mutinies. It led to the establishment of the limited constitutional monarchy, the State Duma of the Russian Empire, the multi-party system and the Russian Constitution of 1906 [. . .] but also a time of rising political terrorism” (Wikipedia).

34. Shandel: mother of Motel, the tailor, a small but interesting role, played by Julie Czarnecki.

35. Stein, Joseph ( 1919-2010 ): famous for his musical comedy, he wrote the book and later the film script for Fiddler on the Roof which became his most successful work, in spite of the initial fear of the New York theatre world that the subject matter was too ethnic and might not appeal to broad audiences.[Joseph Stein, Tony Award-Winning Librettist of Fiddler, Dies at 98
  
Stein won prestigious awards for Fiddler on the Roof, including the New York Drama Critics Award, the Newspaper Guild Award, and a special award for his ‘‘exceptional creative achievement’’ by the B’nai B’rith society.

36. Shtetl: “Yiddish, diminutive of Yiddish shtot, ‘town,’ pronounced very similarly to the South German diminutive ‘Städtle,’ ‘little town,’ was typically a small town with a large Jewish population in Central and Eastern Europe until The Holocaust. Shtetls were mainly found in the areas which constituted the 19th century Pale of Settlement in the Russian Empire, the Congress Kingdom of Poland, Galicia, and Romania. A larger city, like Lemberg (Lviv) or Czernowitz, was called a shtot; a smaller village was called "a dorf."

"The concept of shtetl culture is used as a metaphor for the traditional way of life of 19th-century Eastern European Jews. Shtetls are portrayed as pious communities following Orthodox Judaism, socially stable and unchanging, despite outside influence or attacks. The Holocaust resulted in the disappearance of the vast majority of shtetls, through both extermination and mass exodus to the United States and what would become Israel” (Wikipedia).

37. Tevye, the Milkman: “Sholem Aleichem [. . .] is perhaps best remembered for his fictional confessions, letters, and monologues, written in the voice of the simple religious Jew. In a classically rabbinic manner, Tevye lives his life intertextually, sprinkling his speeches with biblical verses. Oftentimes, Tevye mangles these verses,” according to Daniel Septimus, editor-in-chief of MyJewishLearning.com.

Based on his monologue "Tevye Strikes it Rich" (1894) and his Tevye story, "The Bubble Bursts" (1899), Tevye evolved as a Jewish Everyman who struggles with his life as a poor milkman, as a father who tries to keep Jewish traditions alive, and as the head of the family whose eldest three strong-willed daughters go their own way, spiritually and physically, during revolutionary times in Tsarist Russia.

”Tevye: [to God] I know, I know. We are Your chosen people. But, once in a while, can't You choose someone else?
Tevye: Sometimes I think, when it gets too quiet up there, You say to Yourself, "What kind of mischief can I play on My friend Tevye?"

“Tevye: A fiddler on the roof. Sounds crazy, no? But here, in our little village of Anatevka, you might say every one of us is a fiddler on the roof trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck. It isn't easy. You may ask 'Why do we stay up there if it's so dangerous?' Well, we stay because Anatevka is our home. And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word: tradition!
Tevye: Traditions, traditions. Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as . . . as . . . as a fiddler on the roof!
Tevye: [to God] It may sound like I'm complaining, but I'm not. After all, with Your help, I'm starving to death.”

“Villager: An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.
Tevye: Very good. That way the whole world will be blind and toothless.”

38. Tevye Actors (on Broadway and elsewhere in North America and Israel): the most famous include Zero Mostel (first Tevye in the original Broadway production), Theodore Bikel (one of the most beloved Tevye actors), Chaim Topol (Israeli star of the film version of Fiddler on the Roof), Harvey Fierstein (one of the most popular new Tevyes, gay writer and entertainer, with an unusual raspy, gravelly voice), and numerous other great actors and singers. Many Tevye actors created a kind of Jewish Falstaff whose warmth, wit, and joviality wooed audiences around the world.

39. Tevye and Golde’s Daughter: Bielke, their youngest daughter (Amadea Martino Smith, alternating with Sami Zindel).

40. Tevye and Golde’s Daughter: Chava, the third oldest daughter who likes to read and learn. Slowly, she falls in love with Fydeka, a revolutionary, but non-Jewish young Russian. After her marriage, her father, following an old Jewish tradition, cuts her completely out of the family as if she were dead. However, in a moving scene when the village gets destroyed and the people have to flee, Chava and her husband Fyedka support Tevye and his family through a final farewell and receive an unexpected acknowledgement of their union— Michaela Shuchman gave a most moving performance of “Chaveleh,” the bright daughter who violated Jewish traditions more than any of her sisters.

“Tevye: Chaveleh, I would be much happier if you remained friends from a distance. You must not forget who you are and who that man is.
Chava: He has a name, Papa.
Tevye: Of course. All creatures on Earth have a name.
Chava: Fyedka is not a creature, Papa. Fyedka is a man!
Tevye: Who says he isn't? It's just that he's a different kind of man. As the Good Book says, ‘Each shall seek his own kind.’ In other words, a bird may love a fish, but where would they build a home together?
Chava: The world is changing, Papa!
Tevye: No!”

”Chava: Fyedka and I . . .. We want to be married.
Tevye: What? Are you out of your mind? Don't you understand what that means, marrying outside of the faith?
Chava: But, Papa . . .
Tevye: I said no! Never talk about it again. Never mention his name again. Never see him again. Do you understand me?”

“[after Chava elopes]
Tevye: [singing] Little bird . . . Little Chaveleh. I don't understand what's happening today. Everything is all a blur . . . All I can see is a happy child, the sweet little bird you were.”

41. Tevye and Golde’s Daughter: Hodel, their second daughter, who makes fun of her young Communist teacher Perchik because of his Marxist reading of a Bible story. In return, he points out her hanging on to outdated old Jewish traditions during these revolutionary times. And to make his point, he teaches her how to dance, thereby defying the old Orthodox-Jewish rule that men can not dance with women. They later marry and when he gets deported to Siberia, she follows him—one of the most moving roles in the Fiddler, performed with deep feelings by Gianna Yanelli.

Hodel: Yes. But he did nothing wrong. He cares nothing for himself. Everything he does is for other people.
Tevye: Yes, but if he did nothing wrong, he wouldn't be in trouble.
Hodel: Oh Papa, how can you say that? What wrongs did Joseph do? And Abraham, and Moses? And they had troubles.
Tevye: Yes, but . . . But why won't you tell me where he is now, this Joseph of yours?
Hodel: It is far, Papa. Terribly far. He is in a settlement in Siberia.
Tevye: [shocked] Siberia! And he asks you to leave your father and mother, and join him in that frozen wasteland and marry him there?
Hodel: No, Papa. He did not ask me to go. I want to go. I don't want him to be alone. I want to help him in his work.”

“Tevye: [concerned] And, who my child will there be to perform a marriage there in the wilderness?
Hodel: [smiling] Papa, I promise you, we will be married under a canopy.
Tevye: Yes, yes. No doubt, a Rabbi or two were also arrested.
[the train pulls in, Tevye lifts Hodel's luggage aboard]
Hodel: [crying and hugging him] Papa! God alone knows when we shall see each other again.
Tevye: Then, we will leave it in His hands.
[he helps her aboard and watches the train pull out]
Tevye: [looking up] Take care of her. See that she dresses warm.”

42. Tevye and Golde’s Daughter: Shprintze, their second to youngest daughter (played alternately by Arin Edelstein and Mackenzie Maula).

43. Tevye and Golde’s Daughter: Tzeitel, in love with penniless Motel the tailor, almost gets forced to marry Lazar Wolf, the rich, local butcher and widower, who is older than Tzeitel’s father. In those days, young women from poor families were usually married off to wealthy men, arranged by a Yente, a traditional matchmaker. However, Tzeitel’s love for the wonderful but dirt-poor tailor wins over her father’s objections—a wonderful role played with great empathy by Rita Markova.

“Tzeitel: But Mama, the men she finds. The last one was so old and he was bald. He had no hair.
Golde: A poor girl without a dowry can't be so particular. You want hair, marry a monkey.”

”Hodel: We only have one Rabbi, and he only has one son. Why shouldn't I want the best?
Tzeitel: Because you're a girl from a poor family. So whatever Yente brings, you'll take.”

44. Tevye’s Wife: Golde, traditional, long-suffering wife and mother of seven children in the original stories by Alecheim, and five daughters in the musical version. She forms a strong counterpart to her milkman husband who can easily go off on a tangent with his homespun philosophies and a deeply seated wisdom, which often comes out in unexpected but charming ways. By contrast, Golde expresses common sense and down-to-earthness, an almost Shakespearian Kate from a Russian shtetl who resists her cart-pushing Petruchio—Tevye the milkman husband—and his unexpected ways of handling difficult situations. Philadelphia’s beloved Mary Martello played the feisty Golde with a guarded warmth and wit as the overworked mother, elevating this famous role to a height far above any caricature.

“Perchik: Your daughter has a quick and witty tongue.
Tevye: Yes, the wit she gets from me, as the good book says . . .
Golde: The good book can wait, it's time for Sabbath.
Tevye: The tongue she gets from her mother.”

“Tevye: [in song] Do you love me?
Golde: [speaking] I'm your wife!
Tevye: [speaking] I know!
[in song]
Tevye: But do you love me?
Golde: [singing] Do I love him? For twenty-five years I've lived with him, fought with him, starved with him. Twenty-five years, my bed is his . . .
Tevye: Shh!
Golde: [singing] If that's not love, what is?
Tevye: [singing] Then you love me!
Golde: I suppose I do!
Tevye: Oh.
[sings]
Tevye: And I suppose I love you too.
Tevye, Golde: [singing] It doesn't change a thing, but even so . . . After twenty-five years, it's nice to know.”

45. Walnut Street Theatre: the oldest, continually operating theater in the English-speaking world, now over 200 years old. Today, with over 56,000 subscribers annually, the Walnut is the most subscribed theater company in the world. It has seen on its stage some of the greatest entertainers and actors since 1809.

When Adolf Hitler arrived on the world stage in 1933, the Walnut produced The Curtain Rises, a play which takes place in Vienna, a city which, five years later, raised the Hitler salute in such a way that it extended the hunt for Jewish and gay people all over Austria. The Walnut, by contrast, presented Yiddish theatre in the mid 1930’s under the guidance of Maurice Schwartz who was often called the “Yiddish Barrymore.”

“When we finally stamp out the plague,” Hitler confided in Martin Borman via a memorandum in 1941, “we shall have accomplished for mankind a deed whose significance our men out there on the battlefield cannot even imagine yet." In December of 1941, preparing for the “final solution” and the destruction of all Jewish life and culture, Hitler declared war on the United States.

Unperturbed by these events, the Walnut Street Theatre produced Native Son by Orson Wells in 1942. The same year, the Walnut cast famous stars like Katherine Hepburn, Gregory Peck, and Gloria Swanson. And in 1944, at the height of the extermination of Jews, gays, gypsies, Communists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, mentally disabled, and countless other groups, the Walnut Street Theatre produced the stage adaptation of Embezzled Heaven by Franz Werfel, the internationally acclaimed Jewish expressionist writer who had married Gustav Mahler’s widow, and managed to escape first Anschluss-Austria and then occupied France to settle in the United States.

46. Yente: the matchmaker, who lives and breathes the old Shidduch tradition, a system of matchmaking in which Jewish singles are introduced to one another in Orthodox Jewish communities for the purpose of marriage. Denise Whelan’s voice, facial expressions, gestures, and mere presence stood out in her performance as an irresistible powerhouse of acting that few could resist.

“Yente: From such children come other children!
Golde: Motel is nothing! Yente, you said you had news for me . . .
Yente: Ah, children, they are your blessing in your old age. My poor Aaron, God rest his soul, couldn't give me children. Between you and me, Golde, he hardly tried.”

[Yente has returned from the post office]
Yente: The postman told me there was a letter for your sister, Hodel.
Tzeitel: Thank you, I'll go and get it.
Yente: I got it. It's, ah, from her intended, Perchik.
Tzeitel: Oh, she'll be so happy, she's been waiting to hear from . . . but it's open!
Yente: [shrugs] So, it happened to be open . . .”

47. Yiddish Language: a mother tongue which “went from a Germanic dialect to a full-fledged language that incorporated elements of Hebrew, Aramaic, Slavic languages, and Romance languages. [. . .] “For nearly a thousand years, Yiddish was the primary, sometimes the only language that Ashkenazi Jews spoke. Unlike most languages, which are spoken by the residents of a particular area, or by members of a particular nationality, Yiddish, at the height of its usage, was spoken by millions of Jews of different nationalities all over the globe. While the mid-twentieth century marked the end of Yiddish as a widely spoken language, and of the unique culture the language generated, some groups continue to use Yiddish as their primary language to this day. In addition, the language is now fully acknowledged and widely studied in the non-Jewish and academic worlds” (David Shyovitz, Virtual Jewish Library).

48. Yiddish Music: in his prologue to Stempenyu, a Jewish Romance, the first Sholem Aleichem novella translated into other languages (German in 1889, and English in 1913)—which inspired Marc Chagall’s “Fiddler on the Roof” painting—Aleichem wrote, “Jews love music and have an ear for song . . . Any heart, especially a Jewish heart, is a fiddle: You squeeze the strings and you draw forth all kinds of songs . . . Oh, what a master Stempenyu [famous Yiddish musician and composer in the 1800’s] was! He would grab the violin and . . . it spoke, pleaded, crooned tearfully, in a Jewish mode, with a force, a scream from the depths of the heart, the soul” (qtd. in Jan Lisa Huttner, “Everybody's Fiddler.” Forward, September 5, 2003).
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* The dialogue quotations in this Glossary come from the film version of the Fiddler on the Roof, written by Joseph Stein and produced in 1971.
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Related Links:

  • Read additional reviews by Henrik Eger
  • Interview with Alexander Sovronsky
  • Reading Sholem Aleichem from Left to Right
  • 'Sholom Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness' -The Film

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  • Henrik Eger

    Sholem Aleichem (1859-1916)

    Tevye, the Milkman - Book in Yiddish

    Marc Chagall (1887–1985)

    Chagall’s Violinist, 1911

    Joseph Stein (1912-2010)

    Jerome Robbins (1918–1998)

    Jerry Bock (born 1928)

    Harold Prince (born 1928)

    Sheldon Harnick (born1924)

    Mark Jacoby as Tevye

    Nick Dalton as Perchik & Gianna Yenelli as Hodel

    Mark Jacoby as Tevye & Ensemble

    Gianna Yenelli as Hodel Rita Markova as Tzeitel and Michaela Shulman as Chava

    Mary Martello as Golde, Mark Jacoby as Tevye, and Jennie Eisenhower as Frumah Sarah

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