The Shmooze

Topol Wows at Folksbiene 'Fiddler' 50th

By Masha Leon

  • Print
  • Share Share

Lots of Motls, Goldas and Tzeitels, but only one world-famous Tevye — Topol— were on stage at Town Hall for the National Yiddish Theatre-Folksbiene’s June 9 extravaganza “Raising the Roof: A tribute to “Fiddler on the Roof.”

The show seamlessly showcased multi-generational alumni of “Fiddler”— including Pia Zadora – reaching back to the 1967 Broadway opening through its decades’-long, worldwide incarnations. A 91-year young Fyvush Finkel danced onto the stage as Lazer Wolf the butcher, arguing in Yiddish, with Tevye the Milkman Mike Burstyn. Violinist Joshua Bell performed a medley of “Fiddler” themes and Austin Pendleton, the first Motl the Tailor, sang “Miracles of Miracles.”

Karen Leon
Zalmen Mlotek

“I don’t know about you, but for me this has been a hell of an evening,” 90-years-young “Fiddler” lyricist Sheldon Harnick, told the audience. Thanking Folksbiene’s artistic director Zalmen Mlotek “without whom this event could not have happened,” Harnick joined Andrea Martin (Golde in a 2004 revival) in the heartwarming farklempt duet: “Do You Love Me?”

Israel’s consul general in New York Ido Aharoni touted “Yiddish as influential beyond the number of people who spoke it — because it was the language of the newcomer, the immigrant who has to adjust, adapt — often with humour — into the oil of the social machine. Ashkenazi Jews, Sephardic Jews, newcomers, old-timers — all of us join in this great celebration and on behalf of the Israeli government I thank you for being here.”

White-haired and elegant in a suit, Topol, star of Norman Jewison’s’ 1971 Academy Awarding winning film “Fiddler on the Roof” recalled Jewison [who could not make it because of plane complications] coming backstage in London in 1968, telling him: “’Chaim, I like the way you play Tevye…and I want you to be in my film.’” Then, in a surprise a capella rendition of the Harnick-Jerry Bock (music) “If I Were a Rich Man” Topol wowed an already hyper audience. The evening ended with Topol, all participants plus a young people assemblage singing a thrilling “Tradition” to the accompaniment of a roaring audience on its feet.

I first met Topol in July 1967 at a post Six-Day War fundraiser at the London Hilton held under the auspices of The Countess of Harewood, a Jewish member of the Royal family. A tall muscular Topol — Then London’s “Tevye” — came to see keynote speaker Yael Dayan and almost caused a riot. Spotted by some of the 1,000 Jewish British Ladies (there were indeed Lady Cohens, Lady Levys, etc.) they rushed en masse to Topol carrying me along and crushing me against his chest. My head under his chin, my hands protecting my beehive hairdo instead of my ribs, I screamed “Help I can’t breathe!” and had to be rescued by security guards. Fleet Street papers had a ball the next day.

When we met again in New York in 1991 with Topol in a “Fiddler” revival, during our chat he told me: “When I first played Tevye I was only 10-years-married so the 25 years of Tevye’s marriage looked like eternity. Now it’s 36 years so that 25 is like child’s play.” And for “Fiddler” it is 50 years and counting….

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: jewish, fiddler on the roof, folksbiene, 50th anniversary

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel:
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • Mixed marriages in Israel are tough in times of peace. So, how do you maintain a family bubble in the midst of war?
  • Despite the escalating violence in Israel, more and more Jews are leaving their homes in Alaska to make aliyah:
  • The Workmen's Circle is hosting New York’s first Jewish street fair on Sunday. Bring on the nouveau deli!
  • Novelist Sayed Kashua finds it hard to write about the heartbreak of Gaza from the plush confines of Debra Winger's Manhattan pad. Tough to argue with that, whichever side of the conflict you are on.
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.