Fiddler on the Roof
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Fiddler on the Roof is a musical with music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, and book by Joseph Stein, set in Tsarist Russia in 1905. It is based on Tevye and his Daughters (or Tevye the Milkman and Other Tales) by Sholem Aleichem. The story centers on Tevye, the father of five daughters, and his attempts to maintain his family and Jewish religious traditions while outside influences encroach upon their lives. He must cope both with the strong-willed actions of his three older daughters—each one’s choice of husband moves further away from the customs of his faith—and with the edict of the Tsar that evicts the Jews from their village.
The original Broadway production of the show, which opened in 1964, had the first musical theatre run in history to surpass 3,000 performances. Fiddler held the record for the longest-running Broadway musical for almost 10 years until Grease surpassed its run. It remains Broadway’s fifteenth longest-running show in history. The production was extraordinarily profitable and highly acclaimed. It was nominated for ten Tony Awards, winning nine, including Best Musical, score, book, direction and choreography. It spawned four Broadway revivals, a successful 1971 film adaptation, and the show has enjoyed enduring international popularity. It is also a very popular choice for school and community productions.
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Fiddler on the Roof was originally titled Tevye. It is based on Tevye and his Daughters (or Tevye the Milkman) and other tales by Sholem Aleichem that he wrote in Yiddish and published in 1894. The musical’s title stems from the painting “The Fiddler” by Marc Chagall, one of many surreal paintings he created of Eastern European Jewish life, often including a fiddler. The Fiddler is a metaphor for survival, through tradition and joyfulness, in a life of uncertainty and imbalance.
Harold Prince replaced the original producer Fred Coe and brought in director/choreographer Jerome Robbins.
The original Broadway production opened on September 22, 1964, at the Imperial Theatre, transferred in 1967 to the Majestic Theatre and in 1970 to The Broadway Theatre, and ran for a record-setting total of 3,242 performances. The production was directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins – his last original Broadway staging. The set, designed in the style of Marc Chagall‘s paintings, was by Boris Aronson. A colorful logo for the production, also inspired by Chagall’s work, was designed by Tom Morrow.
The cast included Zero Mostel as Tevye the milkman, Maria Karnilova as his wife Golde (each of whom won a Tony for their performances), Beatrice Arthur and later Florence Stanley as Yente the matchmaker, Austin Pendleton as Motel, Bert Convy as Perchik the student revolutionary, Gino Conforti as the fiddler, and Julia Migenes as Hodel. Joanna Merlin originated the role of Tzeitel, which was later assumed by Bette Midler during the original run. Carol Sawyer was Fruma Sarah, Adrienne Barbeau took a turn as Hodel, and Pia Zadora played the youngest daughter, Bielke. Both Peg Murray and Dolores Wilson made extended appearances as Golde, while other stage actors who have played Tevye include Herschel Bernardi (in the original Broadway run), Theodore Bikel and Leonard Nimoy. Mostel’s understudy in the original production, Paul Lipson, went on to appear as Tevye in more performances than any other actor, clocking over 2,000 performances in the role in the original run as well as several revivals. The production earned $1,574 for every dollar invested in it.
The original West End production opened on February 16, 1967, at Her Majesty’s Theatre and played for 2,030 performances. It starred Chaim Topol, who would also play Tevye in the 1971 film adaptation and the 1990 Broadway revival, and Miriam Karlin as Golde. Alfie Bass, Lex Goudsmit and Barry Martin eventually took over as Tevye. The show was revived in London in for short seasons in 1983 at The Apollo Victoria Theatre and in 1994 at The London Palladium.
The first Broadway revival opened on December 28, 1976, and ran for 176 performances at the Winter Garden Theatre. Zero Mostel starred as Tevye. Robbins directed and choreographed. A second Broadway revival opened on July 9, 1981, and played for a limited run (53 performances) at Lincoln Center‘s New York State Theater. It starred Herschel Bernardi as Tevye and Karnilova as Golde. Other cast members included Liz Larsen, Fyvush Finkel, Lawrence Leritz and Paul Lipson. Robbins directed and choreographed. The third Broadway revival opened on November 18, 1990, and ran for 241 performances at the George Gershwin Theatre. Topol starred as Tevye, and Marcia Lewis was Golde. Robbins’ production was reproduced by Ruth Mitchell and choreographer Sammy Dallas Bayes. The production won the Tony Award for Best Revival.
A fourth Broadway revival opened on February 26, 2004, and ran for 36 previews and 781 performances at the Minskoff Theatre. Alfred Molina, and later Harvey Fierstein, starred as Tevye, and Randy Graff, and later Andrea Martin and Rosie O’Donnell, was Golde. Lea Michele played Sprintze. It was directed by David Leveaux. This production replaced Yente’s song “The Rumor” with a song for Yente and two other women called “Topsy-Turvy”. The production was nominated for six Tonys but did not win any.
Fiddler was first revived in London in 1983 at the Apollo Victoria Theatre (a four-month season starring Topol) and again in 1994 at the London Palladium for two months and then on tour, again starring Topol, and directed and choreographed by Sammy Dallas Bayes, recreating the Robbins production.
After a two-month tryout at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, England, a London revival opened on May 19, 2007, at the Savoy Theatre starring Henry Goodman as Tevye, Beverley Klein as Golde, Alexandra Silber as Hodel, Damian Humbley as Perchik and Victor McGuire as Lazar Wolf. The production was directed by Lindsay Posner. Robbins’ choreography was recreated by Sammy Dallas Bayes (who did the same for the 1990 Broadway revival), with additional choreography by Kate Flatt.
A 2003 national tour played for seven months, with a radical design, directed by Julian Woolford and choreographed by Chris Hocking. The production featured a minimalist setting, and the costumes and set were monochromatic. Fruma-Sarah was represented by a 12 foot puppet. This production was revived in 2008 starring Joe McGann and toured until September 2008.
Australian and U.S. tours
For two years, beginning in 2005, Topol recreated his role as Tevye in an Australian production, with seasons in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth, Wellington and Auckland.
Topol in ‘Fiddler on the Roof’: The Farewell Tour opened on January 20, 2009, in Wilmington, Delaware. Topol left the tour in November 2009 due to torn muscles in his arms. He was replaced by Harvey Fierstein.
Among the many versions produced around the world is a Hebrew language staging produced by the Israeli impresario Giora Godik in the 1960s. The Hebrew version of “Fiddler on the Roof” was so successful that Godik decided to produce a second version, this time in Yiddish, the language in which the original Sholem Aleichem stories upon which the musical was based were written. The translation was by Shraga Friedman.
Un Violinista sobre el Tejado was produced in Spanish at Panama’s National Theatre of Panama from October 11 to 15, 2012, starring Aaron Zebede as Tevye.
Tevye, a poor Jewish milkman with five daughters, explains the customs of the Jews in the Russian shtetl of Anatevka in 1905, where their lives are as precarious as the perch of a fiddler on a roof (“Tradition”). At Tevye’s home, everyone is busy preparing for the Sabbath meal. His sharp-tongued wife, Golde, orders their daughters, Tzeitel, Hodel, Chava, Shprintze and Bielke, about their tasks. Yente, the village matchmaker, arrives to tell Golde that Lazar Wolf, the wealthy butcher, a widower older than Tevye, wants to wed Tzeitel, the eldest daughter. The next two daughters, Hodel and Chava, are excited about Yente’s visit, but Tzeitel is unenthusiastic (“Matchmaker, Matchmaker”). A girl from a poor family must take whatever husband Yente brings, but Tzeitel wants to marry her childhood friend, Motel the tailor.
The Fiddler by Marc Chagall, from which the musical takes its name
Tevye is delivering milk, pulling the cart himself, as his horse is lame. He asks God, whom would it hurt “If I Were a Rich Man“? Avram, the bookseller, has news from the outside world about pogroms and expulsions. A stranger, Perchik, hears their conversation and scolds them for doing nothing more than talk. The men dismiss Perchik as a radical, but Tevye invites him home for the Sabbath meal and offers him food and a room in exchange for tutoring his two youngest daughters. Golde tells Tevye to meet Lazar after the Sabbath but does not tell him why, knowing that Tevye does not like Lazar. Tzeitel is afraid that Yente will find her a husband before Motel asks Tevye for her hand. But Motel resists: he is afraid of Tevye’s temper, and tradition says that a matchmaker arranges marriages. Motel is also very poor and is saving up to buy a sewing machine before he approaches Tevye, to show that he can support a wife. The family gathers for the “Sabbath Prayer.”
After the Sabbath, Tevye meets Lazar at Mordcha’s inn, assuming mistakenly that Lazar wants to buy his cow. Once the misunderstanding is cleared up, Tevye agrees to let Lazar marry Tzeitel – with a rich butcher, his daughter will never want for anything. All join in the celebration of Lazar’s good fortune; even the Russian youths at the inn join in the celebration and show off their dancing skills (“To Life”). Outside the inn, Tevye happens upon the Russian Constable, who has jurisdiction over the Jews in the town. The Constable warns him that there is going to be a “little unofficial demonstration” in the coming weeks (a euphemism for a minor pogrom). The Constable has sympathy for the Jewish community but is powerless to prevent the violence.
The next morning, after Perchik’s lessons with her young sisters, Tevye’s second daughter Hodel mocks Perchik’s Marxist interpretation of a Bible story. He, in turn, criticizes her for hanging on to the old traditions of Judaism, noting that the world is changing. To illustrate this, he dances with her, defying the prohibition against opposite sexes dancing together. The two begin to fall in love. Later, a hungover Tevye announces that he has agreed that Tzeitel will marry Lazar Wolf. Golde is overjoyed, but Tzeitel is devastated and begs Tevye not to force her. Motel arrives and tells Tevye that he is the perfect match for Tzeitel and that he and Tzeitel gave each other a pledge to marry. He promises that Tzeitel will not starve as his wife. Tevye is stunned and outraged at this breach of tradition, but impressed at the timid tailor’s display of backbone. After some soul-searching (“Tevye’s Monologue”), Tevye agrees to let them marry, but he worries about how to break the news to Golde. An overjoyed Motel celebrates with Tzeitel (“Miracle of Miracles”).
In bed with Golde, Tevye pretends to be waking from a nightmare. Golde offers to interpret his dream, and Tevye “describes” it (“Tevye’s Dream”). Golde’s grandmother Tzeitel returns from the grave to bless the marriage of her namesake, but to Motel, not to Lazar Wolf. Lazar’s formidable late wife, Fruma-Sarah, rises from her grave to warn, in graphic terms, of severe retribution if Tzeitel marries Lazar. The superstitious Golde is terrified, and she quickly counsels that Tzeitel must marry Motel. While returning from town, Tevye’s third daughter, the bookish Chava, is teased and intimidated by some Russian youths, but one of them, Fyedka, protects her, dismissing the others. He offers Chava the loan of a book, and a secret relationship begins.
The wedding day of Tzeitel and Motel arrives, and all the Jews join the ceremony (“Sunrise, Sunset”) and the celebration (“The Wedding Dance”). Lazar gives a fine gift, but an argument arises with Tevye over the broken agreement. Perchik ends the tiff by breaking another tradition: he crosses the barrier between the men and women to dance with Tevye’s daughter Hodel. The celebration ends abruptly when a group of Russians rides into the village to perform the “demonstration”. They disrupt the party, damaging the wedding gifts and wounding Perchik, who attempts to fight back, and wreaking more destruction in the village. Tevye instructs his family to clean up the mess.
Fiddler On the Roof by Lev Segal in Netanya
Months later, Perchik tells Hodel he must return to Kiev to work for the revolution. He proposes marriage, admitting that he loves her, and says that he will send for her. She agrees (“Now I Have Everything”). They tell Tevye that they are engaged, and he is appalled that they are flouting tradition by making their own match, especially as Perchik is leaving. When he forbids the marriage, Perchik and Hodel inform him that they do not seek his permission, only his blessing. After more soul searching, Tevye relents – the world is changing, and he must change with it (“Tevye’s Rebuttal”). He informs the young couple that he gives them his blessing and his permission.
Tevye explains these events to an astonished Golde. “Love”, he says, “it’s the new style.” Tevye asks Golde, despite their own arranged marriage, “Do You Love Me?” After dismissing Tevye’s question as foolish, she eventually admits that, after 25 years of living and struggling together and raising five daughters, she does. Meanwhile, Yente tells Tzeitel that she saw Chava with Fyedka. News spreads quickly in Anatevka that Perchik has been arrested and exiled to Siberia (“The Rumor/I Just Heard”), and Hodel is determined to join him there. At the railway station, she explains to her father that her home is with her beloved, wherever he may be, although she will always love her family (“Far From the Home I Love”).
Time passes. Motel has purchased a used sewing machine, and he and Tzeitel have had a baby. Chava finally gathers the courage to ask Tevye to allow her marriage to Fyedka. Again Tevye reaches deep into his soul, but marriage outside the Jewish faith is a line he will not cross. He forbids Chava to speak to Fyedka again. When Golde brings news that Chava has eloped with Fyedka, Tevye wonders where he went wrong (“Chavaleh Sequence”). Chava returns and tries to reason with him, but he refuses to speak to her and tells the rest of the family to consider her dead. Meanwhile, rumors are spreading of the Russians expelling Jews from their villages. While the villagers are gathered, the constable arrives to tell everyone that they have three days to pack up and leave the town. In shock, they reminisce about “Anatevka” and how hard it will be to leave what has been their home for so long.
As the Jews leave Anatevka, Chava and Fyedka stop to tell her family that they are also leaving for Krakow, unwilling to remain among the people who could do such things to others. Tevye still will not talk to her, but when Tzeitel says goodbye to Chava, Tevye prompts her to add “God be with you”. Motel and Tzeitel go to Poland but will join the family when they have saved up enough money. As Tevye, Golde and his two youngest daughters leave the village for America, the fiddler begins to play. Tevye beckons with a nod, and the fiddler follows them out of the village.