Left to right: Steven Skybell, Jennifer Babiak and Michael Yashinsky.
Left to right: Steven Skybell, Jennifer Babiak and Mikhl Yashinsky.

L’Chaim: the Miracle of ‘Fiddler’ in Yiddish captures classic storyline in revue form.

Since the 1960s, Fiddler on the Roof has been a staple of Jewish community and culture. The classic film and Broadway production captures Jewish life in a shtetl in pre-revolutionary Russia, navigating the ups and downs of everyday matters.

Now, Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield will bring the story to life once more with a musical revue of Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish, a Broadway Yiddish-language adaptation of the hit created by Zalmen Mlotek. On Nov. 7, the synagogue will present L’Chaim: the Miracle of ‘Fiddler’ in Yiddish as part of the Irving and Beverly Laker Concert Series.

The Sunday afternoon performance will see Mlotek (musical director and artistic director of the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene) along with three performers sing and narrate how the miracle of Fiddler happened. 

“It’s a revue of some of the hits of the show, but also with dialogue and behind-the-scenes commentary,” says Shaarey Zedek’s Hazzan David Propis.

Joining Mlotek are Steven Skybell (Tevye); Jennifer Babiak (Golda); and Mikhl Yashinsky (Nokhem the Beggar), a Michigan actor from the Broadway production. For Yashinsky, whose parents belong to the synagogue, the event will also serve as a homecoming. 

After Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish’s successful run on Broadway, the idea was to take the show on the road — but then COVID-19 hit.

After much deliberation, Hazzan Propis explains that while taking the full-fledged production on tour wasn’t an option due to the ongoing public health crisis, a smaller revue was possible. Out of the idea, L’Chaim: the Miracle of ‘Fiddler’ in Yiddish was born in partnership with Shaarey Zedek, and the revue will actually see its world debut at the Nov. 7 performance.

Hazzan David Propis (left) and Zalmen Mlotek (right).
Hazzan David Propis (left) and Zalmen Mlotek (right).
Reimagining a Hit

“We’re very excited about this,” Hazzan Propis says. “We will have English subtitles for translation for those who don’t understand Yiddish, so they’ll have a really good idea of what everyone’s singing.”

The free concert — open to the Jewish community and beyond — will also be available for online streaming for those who prefer to watch it from home. Online registration, however, is required. A paid reception at Shaarey Zedek will also follow the show, where guests can meet the artists and learn more about the production.

In its revue form, L’Chaim: the Miracle of ‘Fiddler’ in Yiddish plans to capture the original storyline through a new lens. 

“The story of Fiddler is the tension between tradition and modernity with one family living in the Jewish shtetl of Anatevka,” Hazzan Propis explains. “The Yiddish language [adaptation] really cut to the heart of flavor of what Jewish pathos were going through, especially in shtetl days.”

Reimaging the classic hit in Yiddish, Hazzan Propis says, provided more insight into Jewish struggles in the Pale of Settlement. He believes it will help both fans and newcomers alike connect and reconnect with the story in new ways. “I think the mood is going to be incredibly exciting,” he notes. “It’s exciting for people to get together and to really get an intimate look at how they made this production happen.”

Shaarey Zedek has prepared for the livestream with the addition of high-quality HD cameras throughout the synagogue space. “We’re all set for this kind of production,” Hazzan Propis says. “Everyone wants to have a behind-the-scenes look as to how things happened and why things were done the way they were.”

L’Chaim: the Miracle of ‘Fiddler’ in Yiddish will include the backstory of the show paired with a selection of songs from the hit Broadway production. “You get the face value,” Hazzan Propis says.

Shaarey Zedek is anticipating 500-1,000 guests at the Nov. 7 show. The synagogue plans to have ample room for social distancing and will require all attendees to wear masks, regardless of vaccination status. 

“Within the constraints of COVID-19, we’re opening [the synagogue] back up to the public,” Hazzan Propis says, “in a controlled environment.”

The synagogue is looking forward to what Hazzan Propis calls “a buzz in the air” and to bring live Jewish performance back to the community.

“It’s an intimate look at how they made this production happen,” he says of the revue. “We’re going to have two big high-definition wide screens on the sides of the bimah so there won’t be a bad seat in the house.” 

To register or buy tickets, visit www.shaareyzedek.org/events/fiddler.

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