NEW YORK -- In a few weeks, a Broadway classic mired in tradition returns to the stage.
"Fiddler on the Roof, in Yiddish" sold out shows in 2018 and was just about to tour the world in 2020 before the pandemic began.
This time, the performers told CBS2's Lisa Rozner on Thursday, they have a new sense of responsibility because the story is more relevant now than ever before.
Rehearsals are underway for the national Yiddish theatre Folksbiene's beloved off-Broadway production of "Fiddler on the Roof." The show, directed by Academy Award and Tony Award winner Joel Grey, is back Nov. 13 for seven weeks at New World Stages.
"I came and sat there and they did the number for me and I cried," Grey said, adding he did so because, "it has always been about belonging or not belonging. The world situation with the Ukraine just heightens that every day I think about it."
Grey said he recently learned many of his relatives were from Ukraine.
The musical takes place in fictional Anatevka, representing a small town near the original writer Sholem Aleichem's birthplace in central Ukraine. It centers on "Tevye," the milkman, and the role is being reprised by Steven Skybell.
The character navigates faith and family amidst a lurking danger represented by Russian soldiers who attempt to exile the Jews in the quiet community.
"And now to hear that Kiev and Odessa are in our play, we know so clearly that this story takes place in that landscape, it has meaning and relevance," Skybell said.
"My character is from Kiev. It's just an immense responsibility," said Drew Seigla, who portrays "Pertshik."
The performance is fully in Yiddish, but there are subtitles on set to follow along.
"Getting to explore this show that's so familiar in the language that these people would have actually spoken and which Sholem Aleichem wrote the original short stories added this new layer to it that allowed us to go much deeper," said Adam B. Shapiro, who plays "Rabbi."
For many of the people involved in putting the show together, this is a homecoming, as 21 of the 25 actors were in the previous production.
"It's like you're a fly on the wall and you're really seeing this culture makes it very accessible," said Bruce Sabath, who plays "Leyzer-Volf."
"People have said just hearing it in Yiddish conjures up so much more emotion for them," Skybell added.
"I took my son, who at the time was about 7 years old, a few years ago. You get such a different sense as to what the characters are saying and who they are when you hear what they're saying in their original language," said Seth Pinsky, CEO of the 92nd Street Y.
Zach Golden, deputy Yiddish editor of The Forward, said the language is spoken by few, but interest in it is growing among Jews and non-Jews.
"Yiddish influencers and things like Yiddish 'Fiddler on the Roof' have brought new audiences, both Jewish, non-Jewish, just anybody who's interested in, in something new," Golden said. 'Lord of the Rings' in Yiddish just came out. They had had come out previously with 'Harry Potter' Yiddish. Maybe not everyone will engage in all at once, but it's there and it's from those building blocks, you can rebuild a culture that you can rebuild a sense of connection."
Grey's father, Mickey Katz, was a comedian and musician who spoke Yiddish fluently. Grey does not, but that doesn't stop him or the actors from learning.
"The way that Joel also rehearses us, a lot of times we'll actually do it in English and then we'll get really comfortable with the scene and with the words and then we'll add the Yiddish on top of it," Seigla said.
"You're not just learning phonetically what you're saying, you're learning word for word," said Stephanie Lynne Mason, who plays "Hodl."
The couple on stage fell in love in real life during the production's first run, and now they are husband and wife, applying the family values the show touches on into their world.
"I feel really honored to be welcomed into this 'mishpucha,' and it's a blessing," Mason said.
for more features.