Skip To Content
JEWISH. INDEPENDENT. NONPROFIT.

Support the Forward

Funded by readers like you DonateSubscribe
Theater

Yiddish ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ returns to New York with director Joel Grey and original Tevye Steven Skybell

The award-winning Folksbiene production will play off-Broadway’s New World Stages this fall in a limited engagement

After over two years offstage, the New York Theatre Folksbiene’s award-winning run of the Yiddish-language “Fiddler on the Roof” will return to New York with original director Joel Grey, original Tevye Steven Skybell and a renewed relevance owing to the war in Ukraine.

“Needless to say that the timing couldn’t be — I want to say better but I really want to say worse —  in terms of how prescient it is at this moment,” said Folksbiene artistic director Zalmen Mlotek.

The musical is slated to open off-Broadway at New World Stages on Nov. 13 and play through Jan. 1, 2023. It follows the life of Sholem Aleichem’s fabled dairyman, his wife and their daughters in the fictional shtetl of Anatevka, located outside Kyiv. The play ends with a scene of Jews forced to leave their homes by an antisemitic edict of the czar.

Skybell, who won a Lucille Lortel Award for playing Tevye, noted the play’s resonance. At the start of the show, Tevye, speaking to the audience, anticipates their question: Why remain in a precarious position – fiddling on the roof – if it’s so dangerous?

“He says, ‘We stay because Anatevka is our  home.’ And that to me, with the Ukraine and the events going on there, that is now such a deeply resonant line,” Skybell said. “It may not be an ideal situation, but it’s our home. That should be the end of discussion. But unfortunately, it isn’t always the end.”

A new urgency

This is not the first time Yiddish “Fiddler” felt urgent. During its original run downtown in 2018, the Tree of Life shooting made the show’s call to tolerance, and examination of antisemitism, tragically topical.

Mlotek says the New World Stages run aims to “reignite” the enthusiasm for the show, which was poised to tour the U.S., China and Australia before the pandemic. Mlotek hopes its new venue, near the Theater District, will reach audiences who missed the show when it played at the Museum of Jewish Heritage and, when it was extended, at Theatre Row. 

Skybell expects to be starting rehearsals shortly after he dons Tevye’s vest in an English production of “Fiddler” for the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Now preparing for that show – which was originally staged at the Komische Opera in Berlin with a 100-voice choir – he says his Yiddish performance is helping flesh out the original English book, which he feared might lose its luster after playing it in the language of Sholem Aleichem.

Revitalizing the story

“The English in some way feels a little clinical,” Skybell said. “’The Good Book’ versus the ‘Toyrah’ and ‘Sabbath’ versus ‘Shabbos.’ There’s  just something you can wrap your arms around with the Yiddish. And I have been finding as I’ve been rehearsing for myself, the English, that I’m bringing a lot of the depth of the Yiddish back into the English. I’m actually really surprised and delighted by that.”

Back with the Folksbiene, he expects the intervening years will color what the cast brings to the material.

“With the pandemic, and just dreaming ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ in Yiddish, there will be, I hope, deeper and new insights,” Skybell said. “Nobody will be wanting to resurrect what was put away, but it’s about revitalizing, finding again, what we know to be there.”

The Folksbiene’s “Fiddler” has yet to announce its full cast. Tickets go on sale Wednesday, July 27.

For more information, visit https://nytf.org/fiddler/.

Engage

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.