Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: New Jersey

Fiddler on the Roof
Paper Mill Playhouse
Review by Bob Rendell

1363 - Alexandra Socha and Etai Benson
Photo by Evan Zimmerman for Murphy Made
Paper Mill's holiday season production of the classic musical Fiddler on the Roof is both dramatically and musically powerful. Fully forged and brought to fruition by the intensely brilliant choreographer-director Jerome Robbins, both in the specificity and universality of its characters, it has always been a favorite among cultures throughout the world, emotionally unifying us with its marginalized turn of the twentieth century struggling Jews in Tsarist Russia.

Please pay attention. Joseph Stein (book) pours so much delightful humor into so many vignettes involving serious issues with which we engage throughout all phases of our lives that it is easy to love Fiddler without realizing just how profound it is. Mixing in lively klezmer style music (Jerry Bock) and lyrics (Sheldon Harnick) laced with humor, Bock and Harnick amplify Stein in song.

Oh, Lord, you made many, many poor people
I realize, of course, it's no shame to be poor
But it's no great honor either
So, what would have been so terrible if I had a small fortune?
If I were a rich man
Ya ba dibba dibba dibba dibba dibba dibba dum
All day long, I'd biddy biddy bum
If I were a wealthy man
I wouldn't have to work hard
Ya ba dibba dibba dibba dibba dibba dibba dum.

Based on "Tevye's Daughters," a late 19th century book of short stories by American Yiddish folklorist Sholem Aleichem (translates in English as "Peace upon you"), née Solomon Rabinowitz, the principal characters are Tevye, a struggling dairy farmer; his acerbic wife, Golde; his three oldest and nubile daughters–Tzeitel, Hodel and Chava; four of their suitors–Motel, the tailor; Perchik, a student; Fyedka, a young Russian constable; Lazar Wolf, an elderly butcher; and Yente, a matchmaker.

Please indulge me, but i would like to share a bit of the lyric of "Matchmaker, Matchmaker" which illustrates the brilliant libretto. Here, Tzeitel warns her anxious to be married younger sisters, parodying Yente.

Did you think you'd get a prince?
Well I do the best I can
With no dowry, no money, no family background
you Be glad you got a man!

Her newly cautious sisters, Chava and Hodel respond:

Matchmaker, matchmaker
You know that I'm still very young
Please, take your time
Up to this minute
I misunderstood
That I could get stuck for good.

Jordan Gelber is a straightforward, satisfactory Tevye. Perhaps with a bit of a Yiddish accent and depth of passion, he might make a stronger impression. Jill Abramovitz is an excellent Golde. Her Golde can be hard and difficult and unhappy, but she is a good, solid person carrying out the difficult life that fate has given her. It is a performance with solid depth, re-creating women of an older generation who are sadly recognizable to me.

Raising this Fiddler to a very high musical and interpretive level is Alexandra Socha's spot-on Tzeitel. The rich, melodious vocals and endearing joie de vivre of her Tzeitel give us great hope for both Tzeitel and Socha's futures. I was also deeply entertained and impressed with the richly melodious Motel as sung by Etai Benson. After making these observations, how pleasurable it was to discover that Benson and Socha are husband and wife. If you see this production, I would not be surprised that, if you see them sometime in the future, you will be happy to say "I saw them when they performed in Fiddler at Paper Mill."

Particularly noteworthy, solidly professional contributions are made by the entire featured cast under the reliably solid direction of Mark S. Hoebee. Given the vernacular Stein has employed (particularly for the older characters), it would add to the feel and humor of the performance if a bit more of a Yiddish accent were employed in place of the largely uninflected English. It is true that Suzanne Grodner (Yente) and Alexandra Socha (channeling Yente), who score big points doing so, have roles so designed, but to my ears, its expansion would still help.

Parker Esse appears to have done well in restoring Jerome Robbin's original choreography with a particularly thrilling "To Life." Paper Mill, with its excellent sound system, provides rousing music, clear sound, and strong backing for the excellent thirteen-piece orchestra under the direction of Jillian Zack. The only song performance that disappoints is the magnificent Sabbath Prayer which "feels" underpowered and truncated. Could the culprit be the loss of the magnificent Boris Aronson set and the staging which it accommodated? Quite possibly. The mind does do strange things.

Bottom line. The current Paper Mill production of FiddlerI is not to be missed. It is still thought provoking, joyous, funny, and musically outstanding.

Fiddler on the Roof runs through January 7, 2024, at Paper Mill Playhouse, 22 Brookside Drive, Millburn NJ. For tickets and information, please visit or call the box office at 973-376-4343.

Book: Joseph Stein
Lyrics: Sheldon Harnick
Music: Jerry Bock

Based on the Tevye's Daughter stories by Sholem Aleichem
Director: Mark Hoebee
Original New York production directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins
Original Choreography reproduced by Parker Esse:

Cast: Jordan Gelber: Tevye
Jill Abramovitz: Golde
Alexandra Socha: Tzeitel
Austen Danielle Bohmer: Hodel
Maya Jacobson: Chava
Carley Gilbert: Shprintze
Emerson Glick: Bielke
Suzanne Grodner: Yenta
Etai Benson: Motel
David R. Gordon: Perchik
Jeremy Radin: Lazar Wolf
Price Waldman: Modcha
Ira Denmark: Rabbi
Ze'ev Barmor: Mendel
Ari Axelrod: Avram
Susan J. Jacks: Grandma Tzeitel
Blair Goldberg: Fruma Sarah/ Shaindel
Will Stephan Connell: Nachum
Mark Campbell: Constable
Andrew Alstat: Fyedka
Derek Ege: The Fiddler
Additional Villagers: Paloma Maia Aisenberg, Sophie Aknin, Sabrina Brush, Michael Bullard, Alex Dorf, Michal Kolaczkowski, Kyra Leeds, Beatrice Owens, Nick Raynor