National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene

Steven Skybell: Navigating Jewish Narratives Amidst Rising Antisemitism

Steven Skybell
Steven Skybell as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish. Photo: Jeremy Daniels

From last year’s Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish to this year’s Amid Falling Walls and now next year’s Cabaret, Steve Skybell’s theatrical journey is rooted in his passion for stories of the past that remain relevant today

Skybell’s theater work illustrates his commitment to playing Jewish roles, something that he is increasingly passionate about as antisemitism grows throughout the world. From his starring role as Tevye in Folksbiene’s productions of Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish to his featured role in Amid Falling Walls, which starts previews on Tuesday, November 14, Skybell’s dedication to preserving Yiddish culture and his artistic response to rising antisemitism is inspirational.

Bebe Neuwirth and Steven Skybell join cast of Cabaret

We could not be more thrilled to see that Skybell will be appearing in the 2024 revival of Cabaret, playing the role of Herr Schultz, a Jewish fruit seller, alongside Jewish actress Bebe Neuwirth. Cabaret, set in the pre-World War II era, as the Nazis were coming to power, explores themes of antisemitism, political upheaval, societal tension, and the rise of extremism. 

Skybell said: “In these times of increased antisemitism, I am proud and privileged to play the Jewish role of Herr Schultz in Cabaret. It’s important to tell stories like Cabaret, which is, of course, massively entertaining, but also sheds light on this moment in history when fascism and intolerance nearly overcame the Jewish people and the world at large.”

Before Skybell’s Broadway journey, there’s an exciting performance to catch!  When Amid Falling Walls begins previews this week, audiences will see him along with the ensemble cast as they explore themes of resilience, resistance, and hope during the Holocaust. This new musical features powerful Yiddish songs created and performed in ghettos, cabarets, partisan encampments, concentration camps, and clandestine theaters. The production narrates true stories of resistance and hope through the words and melodies of those who lived during that horrific time. 

Skybell has said: 

“What drew me to wanting to be a part of the production of Amid Falling Walls is the chance to shine a light on the young men and women who experienced the grim realities of the ghettos and the Holocaust and who were able to make music in the face of all that. It is definitely a story worth telling.”

“With an increased rise of antisemitism in the world, it’s important to remember and celebrate the great triumph of the spirit that is in these stories and songs and the horror they endured. The opportunity to perform this piece at the Museum of Jewish Heritage is not only hopefully a deeply rewarding theatrical event, but also a necessary cultural remembrance that needs to honor the lives of those who were lost.”

All of Folksbiene’s recent productions have shone a light on antisemitism through various themes. The success of Folksbiene’s production of Harmony: A New Musical, now on Broadway, is another testament to the key role that theater can play in addressing critical issues. The musical tells the true story of the Comedian Harmonists, six talented young German men—Jewish and gentile—who came together in the 1920s and took the world by storm with their signature blend of sophisticated harmonies and uproarious stage antics. The Harmonists then came face-to-face with Naziism and were banned from performing in Germany in 1934 because three of their six members were Jewish. 

And while Skybell was not involved in Harmony, his role as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish was one for the ages. It is where he was first under the direction of Joel Grey, who famously originated the role of Master of Ceremonies in the first production of Cabaret on Broadway. The theater community is indeed a small world, and this kind of storytelling is rare but so important—something both Grey and Skybell have recognized. It’s like they are once again brought together through powerful theater that celebrates and showcases the arts as a beacon during dark times—both then and now. 

Stay tuned!

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