November 29, 2022 | Playbill
by Jamibeth Margolis
“A Fiddler Afn Dakh. Meshugeh, neyn?” “A fiddler on the roof: Crazy, no?” These are the opening lines uttered by Tevye in Fiddler On The Roof In Yiddish now playing Off-Broadway, for the third time, at New York Stages. They also happened to be the first words I thought of when I was asked to cast the show. The adventure started late in 2017 when the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene (NYTF), where I have worked since 2012, announced that we would be embarking on our biggest musical yet: Fiddler On The Roof. In Yiddish.
How were we going to pull off such an enormous undertaking? Despite my considerable experience as a casting director, the challenges of this one were daunting. Where would I find 29 Yiddish-speaking actors who sang and danced? I wondered what my dear late grandmother, who always wanted me to learn Yiddish, would have said if I told her I would be casting her favorite show (in Yiddish yet!). “Kenstdu es gloyben?” (Can you believe it?)
We received over 2,000 submissions, though we ultimately auditioned far fewer than that. The entire team, including director Joel Grey, was at every audition, and Joel’s presence was deemed to be an honor for every actor. To prepare, the actors received a seven-part audition packet that consisted of: a written Yiddish pronunciation guide; an audio pronunciation guide prepared by Motl Didner, the associate artistic director of NYTF and now Yiddish coach and associate director of the Yiddish Fiddler; excerpts from the script in transliterated Yiddish—and accompanied by the original English text written by book-writer Joseph Stein a recording of Motl reading the Yiddish, first slowly and then in real time, and a cut of a song.