Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Horse, Mule, Horse, Mule 

"It was a little rocky on the roof last weekend.

On Sunday, Barbara Barrie, the veteran actress who was playing Yente the Matchmaker in the revival of "Fiddler on the Roof," was fired from the show.

"Also on Sunday, Thane Rosenbaum wrote a "think piece" in the Los Angeles Times that knocked the revival for not being Jewish enough."

My, my, my. I do love a good bit of upheaval and controversy. I wonder what possessed the producers to hire Barrie (the fact that she's show lyricist Sheldon Harnick's sister-in-law and mother of one of the producers notwithstanding.) She is a great actress, but as Yente? Don't see it. But of course, original cast member Bea Arthur is indelible in my own mind, so that's what I'm comparing everyone to (Molly Picon was way miscast in the movie.) And as for the show being "not Jewish enough," well, it wasn't that Jewish to begin with--just an entertainment approximation with a book chock full of old Jewish jokes. But then, the real stories (by Sholom Aleichem) the musical was based on were depressing and unwrenchingly sad, albeit with some black humor tossed in to lighten things up a bit. But that doesn't make for a good show.

I have an ambivalent relationship with FIDDLER--it was de rigeur listening throughout my childhood and I still love the original cast recording (Zero Mostel! Julia Migenes before she was a famous opera singer! Bert Convy before WIN, LOSE OR DRAW! Bea!) but after too many weddings and Bar Mitzvahs that played "Sunrise, Sunset," I want to annihilate that particular ditty. I think what sometimes irks me is that it may well be "Jewish-lite" and I like a little authenticity in my Jewish music, or at least the perceived notion of such. That's how I got into klezmer and Yiddish music in the first place a few years ago, and recently, I heard the FIDDLER score in Yiddish translation, and suddenly, the music took on greater life. "Tradition" became "di Torah," and it picked up a particular, for lack of a better word, verve that wasn't even on the original cast. The Yiddish production sang the score like it meant something extra, like all that sadness and black humor that had been stripped out of the original stories had been re-introduced.

Anyway, I wish the new production well, though I won't be seeing it any time soon, I suspect.

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