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The Sorceress

Posted 12/10/2019

The Sorceress, reviewed  by Fern Siegel for


Think Cinderella with a Jewish twist.

The 1878 Yiddish operetta The Sorceress at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, now through Dec. 29, is a time-honored tale of good triumphing over evil.

Written by Avram Goldfaden and set in Romania, it is one of the earliest works of Yiddish theater. The fully restored orchestrations are based, in part, on pre-Holocaust musical arrangements saved from destruction at the hands of the Nazis by YIVO scholars.

Its themes — family separation, violence against the innocent and evil destroying itself — remain eternal. And under the direction of Motl Didner, the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene, which is currently represented uptown in the hit Fiddler on the Roof (in Yiddish), has produced another solid show.

The story revolves around Mirele (Jazmin Gorsline), an innocent girl engaged to Markus (Josh Kohane). She is the daughter of a wealthy man (Bruce Rebold), who is framed and taken away by police. Mirele is left in the care of a cruel stepmother (Rachel Botchan), eager to get rid of her stepdaughter and seize her husband’s money. To do so, she hatches a nasty plan.

And that means enlisting the services of the sorceress Bobe Yahne (Mikhl Yashinsky), traditionally performed in drag. (Due to problems with the initial cast, the future Yiddish star Boris Thomashefsky played the role.)

Throw in the family sending a member into slavery (the Joseph story), the three witches of Macbeth in a “double, double toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble” moment and the always-popular punishment of the wicked, and the operetta delivers a satisfying emotional experience, accompanied by excellent production values.

This version is based on archival orchestral arrangements and performed with English and Russian supertitles under the musical direction of Zalmen Mlotek.

Even for those who aren’t fans of the genre, which has some over-the-top schmaltzy moments with the peddler Hotsmakh (Steve Sterne), the music, performances, sets (Dara Wishingrad), costumes (Izzy Fields) and lighting (Natalie Robin) are first-rate. There is a certain charm in seeing a Yiddish production and both connecting with the past, while understanding why a 90-minute magical musical fantasy with a happy ending satisfies every generation.

The Sorceress was the first Yiddish theater production in the U.S. in 1882, establishing Second Avenue in the Jewish Lower East Side as the Yiddish theater district. In the ensuing decades, New York would become home to a dozen Yiddish theaters and see the founding of the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene — now in its 105th season.

By restaging classics such as The Sorceress, NYTF sustains a musical legacy worth seeing. —Fern Siegel