NEW YORK — It might seem meshuganah – crazy – to stage a beloved musical in a language that most of the audience won’t understand. But Tevye the dairyman and his family will speak Yiddish in an off-Broadway production of “Fiddler on the Roof” directed by Oscar and Tony winner Joel Grey.

Previews start Wednesday for the show, which will be the first-ever United States production of “Fiddler” in the language its characters would have spoken.

“I always knew what this play was about and that’s how I had the chutzpah to tackle it,” Grey said during a rehearsal at the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene, which is housed at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in lower Manhattan.

“We work in English first on the scenes so that everybody understands the characters, and the third or fourth time we do it in Yiddish, and we just keep at it.”

There will be supertitles in English and Russian for theatergoers who don’t know their schmaltz from their schmutz.

“Fiddler on the Roof” opened on Broadway in 1964 and ran for eight years. It has been a favorite of schools and community theater groups ever since and has been revived on Broadway four times. Its songs including “Sunrise, Sunset” and “If I Were a Rich Man” are familiar even to people who’ve never seen the show.

Based on stories by Sholom Aleichem originally written in Yiddish, “Fiddler” is set in 1905 in a Jewish village in czarist Russia.

A Yiddish version of “Fiddler” translated by actor and writer Shraga Friedman as “Fidler afn Dakh” was performed in Israel in 1966 but was never staged in the U.S. until now.

“For more than a generation we’ve had an explosion of contemporary Yiddish arts and culture by musicians, poets, theater makers, scholars and writers who have studied the language and its history and its incredible volume of modern literature and eclectic music,” said Alisa Solomon, the author of “Wonder of Wonders: A Cultural History of Fiddler on the Roof.”

— From news services