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July 26, 2014 4:32 PM   Subscribe

50 years ago tonight, Fiddler on the Roof began performances at the Fischer Theatre in Detroit. Sheldon Harnick, the lyricist, says: "I remember one audition for Fiddler. As people left I heard someone say dismissively 'Oh once they run out of Hadassah benefits there'll be absolutely no audience for it'. At the time I feared maybe they were right."

The Strange Power of ‘Fiddler on the Roof’: Robbins would ask them repeatedly what this story was about. Bock, Harnick, and Stein could not do better than offering a rudimentary synopsis: “The show is about a dairyman and his marriageable daughters.” One day, Robbins gave up hope for a new answer, and he ranted in frustration. “That’s not enough,” he said. “That’s ‘The Previous Adventures of the Goldbergs.’”

‘Fiddler on the Roof,’ Its Production Heritage: When Mostel blasted into rehearsals after the second week, he started ridiculing Robbins right away. “A couple of weddings in Williamsburg and that putz thinks he understands Orthodox Jews!” he’d snort with a roll of the eyes that seemed to trace the full circumference of the globe. Day after day he found a way to entertain his fellow cast members at Robbins’s expense. And most of the company — especially the younger actors — cheered him on with their laughter.

50th anniversary of ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ reunites Tevye’s many daughters: Pia Zadora, who played Bielke, the youngest of Tevye’s five daughters in the original production when she was just 10, said it taught her what family could be.

Hal Prince Discusses "Fiddler on the Roof"

Zero Mostel's "If I Were a Rich Man"

Fiddler on the Roof original commercials

And for fun... Do You Love Me?
posted by roomthreeseventeen (25 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Oh god I was just skipping down the street singing ERECTION to the tune of TRADITION, I feel so timely.
posted by elizardbits at 5:07 PM on July 26, 2014 [9 favorites]

Also one of my favourite expat pastimes was forcing unwilling goyim to watch this movie and then repeatedly insisting that it was an accurate depiction of modern jewish life.
posted by elizardbits at 5:11 PM on July 26, 2014 [4 favorites]

Pia Zadora was in the original production of Fiddler? Somehow that just broke my mind.
posted by yoink at 5:17 PM on July 26, 2014 [4 favorites]

yoink: Bette Midler and Adrienne Barbeau were in the original run too, although I don't think they originated the characters.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 6:07 PM on July 26, 2014

If they're putting on a revival on Broadway, looks like we're going to New York next year. Mrs A. loves this show.
posted by arcticseal at 6:08 PM on July 26, 2014

All I can say is thanks to Sholem Aleichem for creating such an iconic view of how my family may have lived back in Ukraine. My great grandfather naturalized in the United States in 1905 just like Sholem did, and for the same reasons.

During World War II, many of these shtetls were burned to the ground, their villagers murdered, and their ancestors' gravestones used for building highways.

This play is a big deal to me because it has lived on in spite of the violence, in spite of the hate, in spite of the theft and destruction of history.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:36 PM on July 26, 2014 [7 favorites]

Fiddler is an enjoyable enough play. But romanticizing the shtetl is.....ugh
posted by atomicstone at 6:52 PM on July 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Pia Zadora was in the original production of Fiddler? Somehow that just broke my mind.

"Yeah, and I got invited to Pia's house...Pia Zadora's house..." "Really?" "Yeah." "Was it nice?" "Well, I didn't...I didn't go..."
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 6:56 PM on July 26, 2014

But romanticizing the shtetl is.....ugh

I think that's a really unfortunate misinterpretation of oceanjesse's comment.
posted by elizardbits at 7:05 PM on July 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Haven't gotten through all the links yet, so apologies if this is prominent in one of TFAs, but I've always loved this one: "L'Chaim!" in Japanese
posted by Mchelly at 7:07 PM on July 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

I was just trying to convince my boyfriend that he needs to learn the lyrics to Sunrise, Sunset because it will be a key part of the ceremony at the Perlman-Mannheimer wedding we're attending in a few weeks.
posted by ChuraChura at 7:08 PM on July 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also someone (maybe the PJ Library?) gave us this book version of Sunrise, Sunset, and damn if I can ever get through reading the thing to my kid without starting to cry. I made fun of that damn song pretty much my whole life and it still f-ing works. It's become a bit of a joke in the house.
posted by Mchelly at 7:14 PM on July 26, 2014

I've only ever seen Topol as Tevye before. Was the Zero Mostel version a bit campier on the stage too, or was he camping things up a bit for the Tonies?
posted by grouse at 8:01 PM on July 26, 2014

It was really twelve years old.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:08 PM on July 26, 2014

The original broadway cast recording beats the hell out of the film soundtrack. Far better performances.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:27 PM on July 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

Sorry. I definitely didn't mean in it a personal way to previous comments. What I meant was that it's an enjoyable enough musical, I guess. But the show is so pervasive and so romanticizes the shtetl that it IS the shtetl for modern American (Jews and otherwise). I grew up in a community that thinks the shetl was the the greatest thing ever. People with those "my roots are in a shetl" bumper stickers and proposals to build gates entering the "Jewish area" of town.
The shetl sucked-and that's if you were a boy who was good at learning. It really really sucked for everyone else.
posted by atomicstone at 8:29 PM on July 26, 2014 [5 favorites]

Fiddler on the Roof does have a special place in my heart because in third grade we went to see it on Broadway and me squinting to see the damn actors' faces was my DRAMATIC MR. HOLLAND'S OPUS MOMENT where my parents realized I needed glasses.
posted by threeants at 9:58 PM on July 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

An explanation of how the bottle dance is performed.
posted by thomas j wise at 9:59 PM on July 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

also, until I was in like high school I thought the fire truck made Mr. Holland's kid deaf.

I am not the sharpest tool in the shed
posted by threeants at 9:59 PM on July 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

The story I heard about my grandfather, who left Poland in 1914 for the US (entering through Galveston), was that Fiddler angered him when he saw it. He did not have pleasant memories of shtetl life.
posted by ShooBoo at 10:30 PM on July 26, 2014

From the Daily Beast article:
(Mark Twain, upon hearing of Aleichem’s reputation, quipped that he was actually the Jewish Sholem Aleichem.)
This appears to be an editing goof. Twain is supposed to have said “Please tell him that I am the American Sholem Aleichem.”
posted by zamboni at 6:08 AM on July 27, 2014

I grew up in a community that thinks the shetl was the the greatest thing ever.

Maybe so, but if it was because of Fiddler on the Roof they hadn't paid much attention to the story. The sympathy of the story is all with the young people who want to explode the "traditions" of shtetl life. The whole motor of the plot is Tevye being defeated in his attempts to uphold traditions which his daughters see as unreasonable and oppressive over and over and over again. It's Perchik the communist revolutionary who is seen as the man of the future.

And, of course, the pervading social fact is the precariousness of any Jewish community that survives only on the whim of a hostile Christian majority--who, of course, brutally displace the community at the climax of the show.

So anyone who thinks the message of Fiddler on the Roof is "the shtetl was the greatest thing ever" probably hasn't seen it for a long time.
posted by yoink at 6:14 AM on July 27, 2014 [14 favorites]

I saw Fiddler when visiting London. I was shocked to discover that everyone in the shtetl had a British accent.
posted by Obscure Reference at 7:05 AM on July 27, 2014 [3 favorites]

The original Broadway soundtrack was one of the staples of my family when we lived in Montreal (along with the organ stylings of Lucien Hétu, Peter Paul and Mary 8-tracks in the car, and the first LP from the guys in ABBA). So yeah, for me, it's Mostel > Topol all the way.

When I was in the 7th grade, I joined the cast of my anglophone (mostly Italian) high school's production as one of the younger daughters who sang only in the chorus (a kindness all around, I'll say). The Montreal Star found the production, even in rehearsals, notable enough that we got featured on the comics page, under a headline that went something like "Look at these Italian kids doing this Jewish play with Brio instead of wine in their glasses!" (and yes, that's a loose paraphrase and I'm sure the Brio mention was meant to have at least two meanings.) It really was a fucking awesome production once we got done with it.
posted by maudlin at 12:05 PM on July 27, 2014

My sister is very smart, but often absent-minded, and Fiddler on the Roof was always one of her favorites growing up. To this day, I still make fun of her for not realizing until she was like 22 that Perchik was a communist.

And I don't know a whole lot about theater, but I saw Topol on his last run and he was still quite charming and funny, even a few thousand performances in.
posted by Uppity Pigeon #2 at 7:53 AM on July 28, 2014

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