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Last chances, unexpected gems, and a Boston flavor in New York theater

Steven Skybell (left) and Bruce Sabath in the off-Broadway Yiddish-language production of "Fiddler on the Roof."Matthew Murphy

NEW YORK — It may seem paradoxical to say that one of the most familiar musicals of all time, “Fiddler on the Roof,’’ should be at the top of your theater-going list if you’re headed to New York for the holidays.

But it should. This is “Fiddler’’ as you’ve probably never seen it: performed entirely in Yiddish (with English supertitles). An off-Broadway production by National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene that is directed by none other than Joel Grey, it stars Steven Skybell — an actor you’ve probably never heard of — as Tevye the dairyman. All Skybell does is deliver a Tevye for the ages.


From its buoyant opening ensemble number, “Traditsye’’ (“Tradition’’), to the mournful-yet-resilient final procession of the Jewish villagers out of their beloved Anatevka, it’s a powerfully moving “Fiddler’’ that is utterly truthful to the spirit of that remarkable musical. Given that Yiddish is the language its characters would have spoken in 1905, there are deep layers of cultural authenticity to this production that only add to its emotional potency.

This “Fiddler” unfolds against a backdrop of parchment-like scrolls, on one of which is inscribed the Hebrew word for “Torah.’’ When that scroll is torn by a Russian policeman in the Act One finale, it’s a terribly jolting moment.

It is through Tevye that we need to feel the stakes of “Fiddler’’ — far greater stakes than in most musicals — and we feel them at every point with Skybell. Tevye is a man of many passions, beliefs, moods, and contradictions, and Skybell captures all of them. He creates a Tevye who is both larger than life and a perpetual underdog as the dairyman tries to navigate upheaval in his family, his community, his faith, his place in the world. “Fiddler’’ is wrapping up its run at Stage 42 on Jan. 5, so don’t tarry.


Also closing on Jan. 5 is a lighthearted Broadway production that could serve as a tonic for your sagging midwinter spirits: “Tootsie,’’ based on the 1982 Dustin Hoffman-Jessica Lange film about an actor who masquerades as a woman to gain a part in a TV soap opera.

Now, you may feel understandably weary of musicals based on movies. But “Tootsie’’ is a surprise, transcending conventions and expectations. Its book, by Robert Horn, is witty enough that “Tootsie’’ could almost stand alone as a comedy, sans music. But it doesn’t have to, thanks to the infectious score by David Yazbek (“The Band’s Visit’’). The versatile Santino Fontana delivers his best performance yet as Michael Dorsey, who in this iteration lands a role in a Broadway musical rather than a TV soap. Sarah Stiles (“Billions’’) is thoroughly winning as Michael’s friend Sandy, an insecure actress (the role played by Teri Garr in the movie).

You may also be understandably weary of jukebox musicals, with their “And then I wrote’’ formulas and their thin plots, but “Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations’’ stands a couple of notches above the usual fare.

This is so not just because the tale of the Temptations is such an eventful one, or because “Ain’t Too Proud’’ draws on the abundant riches of the Motown catalog. After all, so did 2013’s mediocre “Motown The Musical.’’

No, the key difference is that a talented playwright, Dominique Morisseau (“Skeleton Crew’’), wrote the book for “Ain’t Too Proud.’’ (Motown founder Berry Gordy wrote the clunky book for “Motown The Musical.’’) Morisseau’s skills at narrative, pacing, and especially character development enable audiences to experience “Ain’t Too Proud’’ as a story rather than a mere showcase for a bunch of pop tunes, however fondly remembered.


Boston’s fingerprints are all over Broadway at the moment. If you missed the premiere of “Moulin Rouge! The Musical" at Boston’s Emerson Colonial Theatre, the premiere of “Jagged Little Pill" at Cambridge’s American Repertory Theater, or the Boston performances of David Byrne’s “American Utopia" and “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical," you have a chance to see them on Broadway — where they will take a bigger bite out of your wallet than they would have in Boston. (“The Lightning Thief’’ is closing on Jan. 5.) If you didn’t see the 2018 Williamstown Theatre Festival premiere of Adam Rapp’s “The Sound Inside,’’ an engrossing drama starring Mary-Louise Parker as a Yale writing professor coping with a cancer diagnosis who develops a bond with a talented and troubled student, it’s running only through Jan. 12 on Broadway. And if you weren’t able to catch Jeff Daniels as Atticus Finch in Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation of Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird," the reliably compelling Ed Harris has stepped into his shoes.

Don Aucoin can be reached at Follow him on Twitter@GlobeAucoin.