Fiddler on the Roof is regarded as one of the most famous stage and film musicals. It opened on Broadway on September 22, 1964 with music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, and libretto by Joseph Stein. Zero Mostel played the protagonist, Tevye the Milkman, Maria Karnilova his wife Golde, Beatrice Arthur as Yente the Matchmaker, and Bert Convy as Perchik the student revolutionary.
Tevye was played by Chaim Topol in later productions; he also starred in the successful 1971 film adaptation by Norman Jewison. Other actors that have played Tevye on stage have included Alfie Bass, Herschel Bernardi, and Theodore Bikel.
The musical was revived on Broadway for the fourth time in 2004, with Alfred Molina (and later Harvey Fierstein) as Tevye and later Rosie O'Donnell as Golde. The revival closed on January 8, 2006.
The story is based on Tevye and his Daughters, or Tevye the Milkman by the Russian Jewish author Sholom Aleichem, originally published in 1949.
A version of Fiddler on the Roof was created by Joseph Stein called Fiddler on the Roof, Jr. for middle to elementary schools. This version cuts out a few of the scenes, including the dream sequence, to make it shorter.
The play is set in the tiny Jewish shtetl (town) of Anatevka in Tsarist Russia in 1905.
The story centers on Tevye's attempts to maintain his family and religious traditions while adapting to new pressures. These manifest themselves chiefly in the strong-willed actions of Tevye's eldest three daughters, who each select her own husband, contrary to tradition. In both the film and stage production, Tevye has five daughters.
The play's name stems from a painting by Marc Chagall, one of many surreal paintings he created of Eastern European Jewish life. The Fiddler is a metaphor of survival through tradition and joyfulness. In the 1971 film adaptation, the violin music was played by Isaac Stern.
The action opens with a lone fiddler standing on a roof playing a tune, as Tevye tells the audience about the customs of his people and about how they have lived all their lives in Anatevka. He equates life in Anatevka with being a "fiddler on a roof": trying to scratch out a simple, pleasant tune without breaking his neck. "How do we keep our balance?" he asks. "That I can tell you in one word: Tradition!" (Tradition)
At Tevye's home, everyone is busy preparing for the Sabbath meal. Golde, the matriarch, is ordering the five daughters about, and Tzeitel, the eldest daughter, spots Yente, the matchmaker, on her way to their house. Yente tells Golde that Lazar Wolf, the town's butcher and a wealthy man, older than Tevye, wants to marry Tzeitel, but Tevye must first meet Lazar and arrange the deal. Yente leaves, asking Golde to tell her how it goes.
The two middle daughters Hodel and Chava, talk about their excitedness over an arranged marriage, but Tzeitel warns them not be so hasty because they are so poor, that they will probably have to take whatever husband Yente brings. (Matchmaker, Matchmaker)
Tevye is late arriving home because his horse has broken his foot (a running joke of the play, as the horse never actually appears, although the play takes place over the course of something like a year). He prays to God and asks him why he could not have been a rich man. He finds no shame in being poor, but complains that there's no great honour in it either. He imagines his life as a rich man. (If I Were a Rich Man (song))
The men of the village confront Tevye, as he is late delivering their milk and cheese. Avram, the bookseller, has news from the outside world and tells them of pogroms and expulsions. A student from Kiev, Perchik, overhears them and scolds them for doing nothing more than talk. Significantly, Perchik, alone among the men, is clean-shaven; he wears more modern clothing and no tallit katan, the traditional four-cornered garment with tzitzit. Most of the townspeople dismiss Perchik as a woolly-headed radical, but Tevye takes a liking to him and invites him home, offering him room and board in exchange for tutoring the five daughters. The two arrive home to meet the family. Motel Kamzoil, a tailor, who has been friends with Tzeitel since childhood, arrives. Golde tells Tevye to meet Lazar after the Sabbath, she does not tell him what it is about because she knows Tevye does not like Lazar. Tzeitel tells Motel that he must talk to Tevye that night and ask for her hand in marriage immediately. This is against tradition, as a matchmaker normally arranges marriages - and Motel is just a poor tailor. Motel fails to gather the courage to ask, and he runs out of time as everyone settles in for the beginning of the Sabbath meal. (Sabbath Prayer)
After Sabbath, Tevye goes to Lazar's house. Tevye, after clearing up the initial misunderstanding about the milk cow, eventually agrees to let Lazar marry Tzeitel. Teyve and Lazar then go off together to Mordcha's inn, where everyone is drinking, to celebrate. All of the patrons of the inn, including a group of well-meaning Russians, join in the festivities and everyone drinks merrily. (To Life)
Outside of the inn, a drunken Tevye meets the Russian Constable, who has been assigned to watch over the Jews in the town. He explains to Tevye that there is going to be a "demonstration" in the coming weeks (although supposedly not an actual pogrom). Tevye is saddened by this, but the Constable says he is powerless to stop it, and that he expects that no one will actually be hurt. After the Constable left, Tevye meets the fiddler and dances with him home.
The next morning, a hungover Tevye delivers the news to Tzeitel and the family that she will be marrying Lazar Wolf. Golde is overjoyed, but Tzeitel is horrified and pleads with Tevye not to make her marry Lazar because she would be unhappy. Tevye relents and allows Motel, who eventually stands up to Tevye, to marry Tzeitel.(Tevye's Monologue) Motel celebrates with Tzeitel. (Miracle of Miracles)
At first unsure how to break the news to his wife Golde, Tevye concocts a dream in which Golde's departed Grandmother Tzeitel returns from the grave to bless the marriage of Tzeitel and Motel, not Lazar. In the same dream, Lazar's late wife, Fruma Sarah, warns of severe retribution should Tzeitel marry her husband-in-life Lazar. Golde is so frightened that she agrees that Tzeitel will marry Motel. (Tevye's Dream)
The wedding is set and everyone arrives to celebrate. Tevye and Golde marvel at how the two children have grown. Hodel and Perchik ponder if they will ever be wed. (Sunrise, Sunset)
At the reception, there is much dancing and celebration. (The Bottle Dance) Lazar causes a scene, angry that it should have been his wedding. Perchik finally ends the fighting by breaking yet another tradition: he crosses the barrier between the women and the men and dances with a girl, Hodel. To save face, Tevye grabs Golde to dance with him and Motel grabs Tzeitel. Soon, everyone, including the Rabbi, is dancing. The dance is abruptly stopped by the Constable who says that tonight is the night for the demonstration. He apologizes but sends in soldiers who destroy almost everything at the wedding and wound Perchik, who attempts to fight back. After they leave, Tevye wearily tells everyone to clean up.
As Act II opens, Tevye prays to God about the last act. He calls it "quite the dowry." He asks if God has the time, to give Motel his new sewing machine to help business go faster.
Perchik tells Hodel he must return to Kiev to help the revolution. He explains that the pogrom at the wedding was not an isolated incident and that it will happen again. Perchik, and others like him, are gathering to stand against the Tzar of Russia. Hodel does not like it that Perchik is simply leaving and she fails to understand his reasons. He asks if they can be engaged as he loves her and wants her to know that even though they are apart, he will always be hers. She agrees. (Now I Have Everything)
Tevye is not so agreeable to this news. At first, he will not allow Perchik to be engaged to Hodel, because the first thing he's doing is abandoning her. When he forbids them, they inform he they are not asking for his permission, only his blessing. This shocks him, but he finally relents. (Tevye's Rebuttal)
Tevye explains these events to Golde who is not happy with the news either. He says they are powerless to stop it though, this breaking of tradition. This love, he says, it's a new style. Tevye then wonders if Golde loves him. Golde is at first hesitant to answer as she thinks it is irrelevant at this time with all of her daughters getting married off without her consent and because it's kind of pointless after 25 years of marriage anyway. Tevye explains that even though theirs was an arranged marriage, his parents said they would soon learn to love each other anyway.(Do You Love Me?) At the end of the song, they realize their love for each other.
News spreads quickly in Anatevka. (The Rumour) Hodel receives word that Perchik has been arrested and decides she must go to be with him. Tevye is saddened by this but Hodel explains that her home is no longer with him but she will always love her family. But she now has love for Perchik as well. (Far from the Home I Love)
Chava has fallen for a young Russian man named Fyedka. She finally gathers the courage to ask Tevye to allow the marriage, but this is the line Tevye will not cross. He will not allow Chava to marry outside of the faith. Chava disobeys and elopes with Fyedka, before running off. Tevye wonders where he went wrong. (Chavaleh)
Even with all the good news in town, like the arrival of Tzeitel and Motel's new sewing machine and child, the Constable tells everyone they have three days to sell everything and leave the town. After they recover from the shock, they sing about how miserable their town was, but about how it is still their home.(Anatevka)
And so the Jews of Anatevka leave. Lazar Wolf is going to Chicago to live with his brother-in-law. Tzeitel and Motel are going to Warsaw until they can come to America to live with Tevye and his family, who are all going to live with Uncle Avram in New York. Hodel is still in Siberia with Perchik. Yente is going to the Promised Land (Israel, then part of the Ottoman Empire) to matchmake there. Chava returns with Fyedka to try and get Tevye to relent. Though he does not speak directly to her, he tells Tzeitel, as Chava is leaving, that he hopes God will be with them. Everyone says their good-byes and the Fiddler is invited along with Tevye (the original theatrical ending and the movie's ending) or is left behind in Anatevka (the new revival's ending).
Relation to Sholom Aleichem's Tevye
In The Jewish Century, Yuri Slezkine argues that Fiddler Americanizes Tevye, and that Sholem Aleichem's Tevye actually despises the United States.
However in a later book, Adventures of Motel the Cantor's Son, Aleichem expressed great admiration for the United States, and enthusiasm for the idea of immigrating there. He had chosen that path himself, and so one might argue it is likely his character Tevye would have, too.
The HP Lovecraft Historical Society publish a parody of "Fiddler on the Roof", called "A Shoggoth on the Roof", which incorporates the works of HP Lovecraft. Attempts to stage it, however, were met with legal challenges from the producers of "Fiddler on the Roof". A more successful attempt to stage the parody was made by the Swedish amateur theatrical company Teater Tentakel. "A Shoggoth on the Roof" (sw. "En shoggoth på taket") was played three nights in a row during a Lovecraft convention called MiskatoniCon in 2005. It was a huge hit.
In the late 1960s, Mad Magazine published a parody of Fiddler on the Roof called Antenna on the Roof, which speculated about the lives of Tevye's decendents living in 1960s suburban America.
In Disney's direct-to-video sequel,The Lion King 1 1/2,Timon and Pumbaa sing this:
The best-known songs from the tuneful but unconventional score are "If I Were A Rich Man", "Sunrise, Sunset" and "Matchmaker, Matchmaker". In 1993, British reggae duo, Louchie Lou And Michie One released a reggae adaptation of "If I Were A Rich Man" entitled "Rich Girl", which became a dancehall hit in America and was popular across Europe. In November 1999, Knitting Factory Records released the Knitting On The Roof compilation CD, featuring covers of Fiddler songs by alternative bands such as The Residents, Negativland, and The Magnetic Fields. In late 2004, Gwen Stefani released a hit song called "Rich Girl" which was based on Louchie Lou And Michie One's earlier single. Indie rock band Bright Eyes recorded an adaptation of Sunrise, Sunset on their 2000 album Fevers and Mirrors. In 2005, Melbourne punk band Yidcore released a reworking of the entire show called Fiddling On Ya Roof
The Broadway production won nine Tony Awards:
The film won three Academy Awards, including one for arranger-conductor John Williams.
Trivia and references