Performing “Fiddler on the Roof” in Yiddish isn’t just a gimmick. The intimate production now playing at Manhattan’s Stage 42 adds warmth, depth and freshness to the all-too-familiar 1964 musical. It invites a new focus on the meanings of a show that starts out celebrating “Traditsye,” as the rousing opening number is called, and then delineates the demise of some of those notably sexist traditions, like arranged marriages and fathers deciding the fates of their daughters. And yet it’s bittersweet, as these new viewpoints arrive in the midst of a painful ripping apart of a vibrant, cohesive community. This National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene production played for six months at the Museum of Jewish Heritage on Battery Place, where it extended and sold out four times, before moving uptown to 42nd Street, a more convenient location for many theatergoers.
Within the comfortable fold of “Fiddler,” the production’s English translations hardly seem necessary. Many theatergoers know the dialogue and lyrics by heart. Or think they do. Reading the English words as they are projected on the set forces a new kind of attention.