5 Questions from Over the Pond: Jackie Hoffman & Maria Friedman
Two stage Greats go head-to-head in Anatevka in this month's edition of "5 Questions from Over the Pond"...
Talk about “Tradition”! Fiddler on the Roof has become somewhat of a New York tradition in itself, having seen no less than five Broadway revivals since its ground-breaking (and record-breaking) Broadway premiere in 1964. The most recent revival on the Great White Way, which opened in December 2015, was led by the incomparable Danny Burstein as Tevye, resulting in his sixth Tony Award nomination for his particularly affable portrayal. But now, New York City is experiencing a first, decades after the classic musical’s premiere. Thanks to the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene, American audiences are being treated to a Yiddish language version of Fiddler for the very first time.
Although Shraga Friedman translated the musical way back in 1965 in order to present Fiddler in Yiddish in Israel, this version only made its debut on American soil last summer at NYTF. Under the direction of Tony and Academy Award winner Joel Grey, the production is performed entirely in Yiddish with both English and Russian supertitles… and it has been embraced wholeheartedly by Jews and Gentiles alike. So much so that, following multiple extensions, it moved to the larger space of Stage 42, where it began performances in February of this year and continues its celebrated run through January 5, 2020.
On the other side of the pond, Sir Trevor Nunn’s revival of Fiddler on the Roof made waves at the popular Menier Chocolate Factory last fall, securing a West End transfer in March of this year to the Playhouse Theatre, where it is enjoying an extended engagement through November 2, 2019. On paper, these two acclaimed productions have experienced similar journeys and yet they offer two very different experiences of Joseph Stein, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick’s iconic work.
With a global refugee crisis constantly making the headlines and racial tensions as heartbreakingly high as ever, Fiddler on the Roof feels as crucial now as it ever did. So, we decided to commemorate the musical and dedicate this month’s edition of “5 Questions from Over the Pond” to it… and we have brought together two true Greats of the theater for the occasion!
Jackie Hoffman has forged a stellar career as one of the funniest women on Broadway. Her résumé already boasts Broadway credits for Hairspray, Xanadu, The Addams Family, On The Town, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but it could be argued that her current role of Yente lies closest to her heart because of her Jewish faith and the message behind Fiddler on the Roof.
Maria Friedman, a three-time Olivier Award winner who made her Broadway debut in 2005’s The Woman in White, is currently playing Golde in the London revival of Fiddler. From playing The Narrator in the 1999 film version of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat to playing Anna Leonowens in The King and I at the Royal Albert Hall, Ms. Friedman has done it all. And her widely celebrated performances in the likes of Sunday in the Park with George, Passion, Ragtime, The Witches of Eastwick, and Chicago have cemented her legacy as West End royalty.
“Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Make me a match…” And what a match this is! Mazel tov, ladies!
1) Maria: What is your favourite moment in Fiddler On the Roof to perform every night?
Jackie: The opening entrance for “Tradition.” It’s a moment that explodes with excitement and pride. It’s the only time in my life I walk with my chin and chest up. I wish every show I did started with the cast connecting in a circle. And I love that you spelled “favourite” like a British person.
2) Maria: Why do you think that now is such an important time for audiences to see Fiddler?
Jackie: To educate them. Jews came from poor agrarian backgrounds like other people. They suffered from discrimination. They were not welcome wherever they settled. The concept of a homeland for them makes sense, it’s not an outlandish proposition. And of course the glaring issues of discrimination and immigration and how present they are today. It could not be more timely.
3) Maria: You’re known for your incredible comedic performances on stage, and although Yente certainly has her funny moments, the show is undoubtedly more serious than a lot of the previous productions you’ve starred in – how was it taking on the heavier themes of the show?
Jackie: The whole thing is a very emotional experience. Joel Grey chose to have me take on a whole new approach to the last Yente scene and it has become very moving. Here is a woman alone who is not young, moving to another country. She is scared, confused, and convincing herself that she can continue her life in a strange new world.
4) Maria: A lot of your career has centred around your Jewish faith, what does it mean to you to be able to perform such a big show as this completely in Yiddish?
Jackie: This language and the themes of this show have really brought me to a visceral gut wrenching place on a personal level. The matriarchs in my family are slipping away and this is the language of my family’s Jewish history. On a broader scale, I’m honored to help bring this classic to the world in a way it’s never been done before. It has a raw emotional purity that it’s never had. It’s reborn.
5) Maria: Finally, if you could play any role on Broadway, what would it be?
Jackie: My standard answer is Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Check out Jackie Hoffman's 5 questions for Maria Friedman on our London Theatre Guide sister site here!
Fiddler on the Roof Tickets are available now for performances through January 5, 2020.