November 3, 2020
Until November 3, 1971, this musical play could only be viewed on Broadway or in a community or school production. With the release of the movie, however, Fiddler On The Roof, cemented its place as one of the best musicals ever.
Prior to being made into a film Fiddler was a Broadway staple. The Infallible Wikipedia sheds a bright spotlight on its history:
“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. The production was extraordinarily profitable and highly acclaimed. It won nine Tony Awards, including best musical, score, book, direction and choreography. It spawned five Broadway revivals and a highly successful 1971 film adaptation and has enjoyed enduring international popularity.”
What’s so captivating about Fiddler is its unique story. The audience – from the first notes of the fiddle’s haunting tunes – is immersed in the pre-Russian revolution community of Anatevka.
Soon the viewer sees the world through the eyes of Tevye, a Jewish peasant ‘blessed’ with five daughters and no sons. Tevye narrates the entire play through words and song in an often humorous yet bittersweet evaluation of his – and his fellow villager’s – life.
What ties it all together, however, is the incredible music. From the foot tapping lament of If I were A Rich Man, to the witty Matchmaker, and the wistful Sunrise, Sunset, each song expertly captures the feeling of a unique time and place in history.
Fiddler – perhaps more than any other musical to grace the silver screen – is a serious film which explores the foibles of human nature and one’s ability to adapt to change.
I know I saw the film in the theater as a teenager and also a production of it at Eisenhower Sr. High (IKE) in Yakima in the spring of 1972. The IKE production, in fact, was the event which inspired my resolve to be in the choir since you had to be in that group if you wanted to perform in the musical.
I was in my ninth grade year – in junior high – when I wrote this diary entry on March 24, 1972:
“I went to ‘Fiddler on the Roof.’ It was very good, we had front row seats and I felt like the lead was singing to us in some parts. It was really neat.”
First of all, a big thank you to my parents for being first in line and purchasing the front row seats. Second, that is not the most eloquent bit of writing, but I’ll forgive my 14 year old self…at least she captured the moments. I bought a book of Fiddler songs on sheet music and learned to play many of them on the piano. I even sang Matchmaker for a talent competition… I no longer recall WHY I thought this was a good idea (it wasn’t) or the specific event… but I was much more fearless then.
Years later, when my kids got to about ages 8 and 11, I hatched an idea. The hubby and I ordered and installed an 8 foot by 8 foot movie screen. A speaker system was set up to create surround sound and thus we created a part time media center in our living room.
This all coincided with my discovery that the King County Library ‘rented’ to anyone who held a library card films on DVD and VHS. And when I say rent, I mean for free. The catch was that you had to put a hold on the movies you wanted and then wait until the email notice arrived advising that a particular one was ready to be picked up. Much less expensive than Blockbuster and with an element of surprise; we never knew which movie would be the one for any particular Saturday night.
And thus began my mission to introduce my kids to every musical ever produced. My budding film critics soon developed opinions about every selection I brought home. My daughter, for example, declared the musical Carousel as The Worst. Musical. Ever. Personally, I would put it up against The Fantasticks for that title.
On the night of Fiddler, the sights and sounds of 1905 Russia filled the room and the whole family was enthralled. For me it was as if visiting with an old friend for a couple of hours. I tamped down my temptation to sing along and once again enjoyed the wonderful story and characters.
Finally, when I had exhausted all the musicals available through the library, I asked my children one day of all those we had watched, which was their favorite? While I don’t recall what my daughter said, my son did not hesitate: Fiddler On The Roof. An opinion he confirmed recently.
As for me and my dream of being in the cast of my high school’s musical… well, that’s a story for next week.
To learn more about the incomparable Fiddler, one needs only to access The Infallible Wikipedia: