A Few Questions for Joel Grey on Directing ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ at the Museum of Jewish Heritage

A Broadway legend and award-winning actor who received both a Tony (1967) and an Oscar (1972) for his role as the Emcee in Cabaret, Joel Grey is again garnering critical and popular acclaim with the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene’s production of Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish, for which he has contributed his considerable skills as Director. Extended twice and selling out every performance, the musical has touched audiences of all backgrounds and has generated hope for a possible transfer from Off-Off-Broadway’s Museum of Jewish Heritage, where it is now playing through November 18, to a larger Off-Broadway house, or even a potential Broadway run.

Joel Grey. Photo by Henry Leutwyler.

With the show’s well-deserved success, Grey and the entire team have been high demand, but he was generous enough to take a little time out of his busy schedule to respond to a few of my questions about his involvement and experience with this historically- and linguistically-authentic version of the beloved Broadway classic.

Deb: When you were offered the choice between playing Tevye or directing the present production, why did you choose the latter?

Joel: A pure gut reaction. I had always loved the play and had an idea how to do it.

What were the challenges in directing a Yiddish-language version of a classic, with a largely non-Yiddish-speaking cast, many of whom learned their lines and lyrics phonetically?

Too many to enumerate, but all turned out to be solvable.

Joel Grey with members of the cast and team on opening night of Fiddler on the Roof. Photo Courtesy of the Production.
Joel Grey with members of the cast and team on opening night of Fiddler on the Roof. Photo Courtesy of the Production.

Fiddler on the Roof is “laden with happiness and tears.” What brought you the greatest happiness in directing the show, and did anything bring you to tears?

Well, it opens and closes with tears and then there are a half a dozen other spots that get very wet. But seeing the company applauded and cheered and celebrated for their wonderful work brings me joy.

There seems to be a particular synchronicity, and certainly a very timely relevance, in the venue and its location within sight of the Statue of Liberty. Do you have any reflections on why this production is so important here and now?

 All of the above.

What do you hope audiences take away from the Yiddish rendition of this world-famous musical, and what are your dreams for its future?

The humanity. I hope this particular production can play anywhere there are people with hearts (and willing to have them broken).

I hope so, too! Thank you, and much continued success with this extraordinarily moving and genuine show.

Fiddler on the Roof plays through Sunday, December 30, 2018, at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, Edmond J. Safra Hall – 36 Battery Place, New York City. For tickets, call (866) 811-4111, or purchase them online.