by Avrom Goldfaden
Directed by Motl Didner
Musical Direction by Zalmen Mlotek
Choreographed by Merete Muenter
In Yiddish with English and Russian subtitles.
Previews: December 1 – 5;
Performances: December 8 – 29, 2019
“Delightful, charming and historic”- The New York Jewish Week
A magical, musical fantasy starring an innocent young heroine and her dashing fiancè, a devious stepmother, and a scheming wicked witch. “The Sorceress takes its audience into a world of illusion, intrigue, and not least of all, suspense: will Good trump Evil?
Written in 1878, The Sorceress (Di Kishefmakherin) is one of the earliest works by Avrom Goldfaden, the acknowledged father of modern Yiddish theatre. It was brought to America in 1882 by a 14-year old Boris Thomashefsky, who would go on to become one of Yiddish theatre’s biggest stars.
Over the years, the role of the Sorceress, which was traditionally played by a man, became a dream role for some of the greatest leading men of their time. The tradition continues in this production, as Mikhl Yashinsky, from the Folksbiene’s smash hit Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish, assumes the title role.
The Sorceress is fulfilling the Folksbiene’s dream of rescuing and restoring the essential music, lyrics, and scripts of the Yiddish theatre. The fully restored orchestrations are based, in part, on pre-Holocaust musical arrangements which were saved from destruction at the hands of the Nazis by the famed “Paper Brigade” of the YIVO in Vilna, who risked their lives to save thousands of unique documents and manuscripts.
Lead funding for The Sorceress is provided by:
Howard Gilman Foundation
David Berg Foundation
For groups of 10 or more, please contact Itzy Firestone at groupsales@nytf,org or call him at (212) 213-2120 x204 for assistance with sales, pricing, and packages that include kosher meals.
Top 5 Reasons to See the first Yiddish Musical ever produced in America
1. Yiddish Theatre came to America with The Sorceress
The Sorceress was the first Yiddish theatre production in the United States, establishing Second Avenue in the “Jewish” Lower East Side (now the East Village) as the Yiddish Theater District. In the subsequent three decades, New York would see the establishment of over a dozen Yiddish theatres and the founding of the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbeine which—now in its 105th season—is the oldest consecutively producing theatre company in the country. The influence of Yiddish theatre on today’s performing artists is undeniable, and today’s theatergoers are embracing the roots of modern-day theatre—with translation assistance, of course. This is evidenced in the popularity of NYTF’s production of Fiddler on the Roof (A Fidler Afn Dakh) which plays to sold-out theaters and has won multiple awards.
2. You’ve heard of the Monuments Men, now meet the YIVO Scholars.
While most clandestine work in the Vilna ghetto likely centered around smuggling food for survival and valuables for bribes, a group of YIVO Vilna scholars and others risked their lives secreting priceless cultural gems—music, rare books, manuscripts, and plays—into milk jugs and under floorboards and other hideaways. This was perilous work, and those who took it on knew their survival was unlikely; but they were hopeful the Nazis would lose the war and there would be a time when Jewish life would return. The Sorceress, written in 1878 by Avram Goldfaden, is one of the very earliest works of Yiddish theatre; and the fully restored orchestrations are based, in part, on pre-Holocaust musical arrangements which were saved from destruction at the hands of the Nazis by the YIVO Scholars. This fully-staged work is the culmination of a project which NYTF began in 2017 to restore this classic. NYTF’s Global Restoration Initiative identifies the best examples of Yiddish operettas, musicals, and plays; reassembles librettos and scores in a digital format (rendering them useable to artists and scholars), and presents the work to audiences often for the first time in a half-century or more. The Sorceress is fulfilling the Folksbiene’s dream of rescuing and restoring the essential works of the Yiddish theatre.
In 1882, 14-year-old Boris Thomashefsky, who had only recently immigrated to the United States, was working in a cigarette factory where he enjoyed his co-workers singing tunes from Yiddish theatre, including The Sorceress. Though he had never seen Yiddish theatre in his native Ukraine, he loved the tunes so much that he convinced a Bowery beer hall owner to finance his production of The Sorceress. The partner paid for a Yiddish theatre troupe from London to travel to New York for the production. On opening night, Thomashefsky learned that the woman who was to play one of the female lead – Mirele – was no longer available due to dubious circumstances. Thomashefsky reportedly performed the role in drag. And the role of the Sorceress traditionally has been played by a man—a dream role for some of the greatest leading men of their time including Maurice Schwartz and Benjamin Zuskin of the State Jewish Theater in Moscow.
4. Mikhl Yashinsky stars as the Sorceress, taking leave from his role in the Yiddish-language Fiddler on the Roof currently playing in midtown.
Yashinsky first played the role of the Sorceress (Bobe Yakhne) when NYTF staged a lauded reading in 2017. Yashinsky describes the musical: It is melodramatic, operatic, romantic, exotic, fantastic entertainment such as would have delighted the Jews of Eastern Europe at its premiere in 1877 and still delivers its distinct charms to anyone, anywhere today, while still reeking wonderfully (and somehow refreshingly!) of its strange nineteenth-century perfume. There are scenes set in the lair where the witch does her divining, at a sixteen year-old’s birthday party in a beautiful garden, at a coffeehouse in Istanbul. It is nothing like a piece of musical theatre that would get written today, and thank God — and Goldfaden (the playwright) — for that!
5. Will Good trump Evil?
On the surface, The Sorceress is a fairy tale. But as a metaphor, it is about the avarice-fueled oppression of innocents using the tools of family separation, human trafficking, and violence. The metaphor still works today as it did when it was written—in Romania during the time of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878. NYTF presents theatre that transcends language and time. The Sorceress is part of NYTF’s season of “Spiritual Resistance,” which features artistic and theatrical works that explore themes of struggle against oppression. The programming provides artistic expression concurrent with the exhibition Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away. being presented at the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust.
Media: Jeff Simmons