Listen: How Joel Grey Made ‘Fiddler On The Roof’ Feel Brand New

Fiddler on the Roof” is one of the best-known musicals out there, a staple of regional and high school productions (not to mention a regular candidate for Broadway revival). But somehow the current Off Broadway staging of “Fiddler” — directed by Tony and Oscar winner Joel Grey — makes it feel like an entirely fresh show.

Listen to this week’s podcast below:

A big part of that comes from the fact that the production is performed in Yiddish (with English supertitles). Another contributing factor is Grey’s directorial approach: He aimed to strip the show of any distracting Broadway shtick, he explained on the latest episode of Stagecraft, Variety’s theater podcast.

“I wanted to tell it in a way that was more like Chekov than Broadway,” he said. “More about the play and the people, rather than the production. Plus,” he added with a laugh, “we didn’t have any money for a production.”

The modestly scaled staged originated in a limited engagement from the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene — and then proved so popular that producers picked it up for an open-ended run that’s still going.

Grey doesn’t speak Yiddish, and many of the performers in his cast doesn’t either. On Stagecraft, Grey explained the specifics of how he and his collaborators managed it — and also noted that the production gave him an opportunity to work in the language that his father, comedian and musician Mickey Katz, spoke when he performed, even after some Jewish audiences began to tell him they thought the practice was out of fashion.

“He never backed down, and somewhere that stood very strong in me,” Grey said. “I ended up thinking that I was, in a way, doing this [‘Fiddler’] for him.”

Grey, of course, has had a long career as an actor (“Cabaret”), but he didn’t want to play protagonist Tevye. He thought the role should go to a younger man — and besides, he’s a lot more interested in directing now, anyway. On the new Stagecraft he explained why, and also shared some of his favorite reminiscences of working with his friend Harold Prince, the late, legendary director-producer.

New episodes of “Stagecraft” are available biweekly in July, August and September, with a weekly schedule resuming in October. Download and subscribe to “Stagecraft” on Apple PodcastsStitcher or anywhere finer podcasts are dispensed. Find past episodes here and on Apple Podcasts.

Popular on Variety

More Legit

  • Broadway-Breakfast-Split

    Variety to Celebrate Second Business of Broadway Breakfast With Thomas Schumacher, Diane Paulus and Diablo Cody

    Variety has announced the lineup for its second annual Business of Broadway breakfast presented by City National Bank. Joining the breakfast on Oct. 7 is the president and producer of Disney Theatrical Productions Thomas Schumacher, who will take part in the event’s keynote conversation. In his position, Thomas oversees the company’s worldwide stage productions, which [...]

  • Sam Rockwell and Laurence Fishburne

    Sam Rockwell, Laurence Fishburne Starring in Broadway Revival of 'American Buffalo'

    Laurence Fishburne and Sam Rockwell will star in an upcoming Broadway revival of David Mamet’s “American Buffalo.” The show marks Rockwell’s first appearance on the Great White Way since his 2014 performance in the revival of Sam Shepard’s “Fool for Love.” The five-year absence saw him pick up an Oscar for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, [...]

  • Secret Derren Brown review

    Broadway Review: 'Derren Brown: Secret'

    Audiences love to be fooled, whether it’s with clever plotting with a twist, the arrival of an unexpected character or even a charming flimflam man with a British accent. The latter is Derren Brown, and he’s entertaining audiences for a limited run at the Cort Theatre, where he is playing head-scratching mind games and other [...]

  • Matthew Broderick, Sarah Jessica ParkerNew York

    Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker to Reunite on Broadway for 'Plaza Suite'

    Real-life couple Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker are hitting the Broadway stage again for a reboot of the late Neil Simon’s 1968 play “Plaza Suite.” The staging will mark the Broadway directorial debut of Tony award-winner John Benjamin Hickey. Set in New York City’s Plaza Hotel in Suite 719, “Plaza Suite” is comprised of [...]

  • Derren Brown

    Listen: Derren Brown Spills His Broadway 'Secret'

    Derren Brown has spent a lot of his career performing magic shows on theater stages — but he’ll be the first to tell you that magic usually doesn’t make for great theater. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “If you’re a magician of any sort, you can make stuff happen with a click of your [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content