Fiddler on the Roof was originally entitled Tevye. It is based on Tevye and his Daughters (or Tevye the Milkman) and other tales by Sholem Aleichem which he wrote in Yiddish and published in 1894. The story centers on Tevye, the father of five daughters, and his attempts to maintain his family and religious traditions while outside influences encroach upon their lives. He must cope with both the strong-willed actions of his three older daughters—each daughter's choice of husband moves progressively further away from established customs—and with the edict of the Tsar that evicts the Jews from their village.
The musical's title stems from a painting 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.
The original Broadway production of the show, which opened in 1964, was the first musical to surpass the 3,000 performance mark, and it held the record for longest-running Broadway musical for almost 10 years until Grease surpassed its run. The production earned $1,574 for every dollar invested in it.
The show was highly acclaimed and 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 has enjoyed enduring international popularity. It is also a very popular choice for school and community productions.
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. 2003 and 2008 British national tours 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 monochramatic. Fruma Sarah was represented by a 12 foot puppet. This production was revived in 2008 starring Joe McGann and is due to tour until September 2008.
Yente, the village matchmaker, arrives to tell Golde that Lazar Wolf, the wealthy butcher, a widower of Tevye's age, wants to wed Tzeitel, their eldest daughter. The two middle daughters, Hodel and Chava, speculate excitedly about what their mother and the matchmaker were talking about, but the eldest daughter Tzeitel warns them not be so hasty. They are poor, so their parents will have no choice but to take whatever husband Yente brings ("Matchmaker"). Tzeitel is not eager to have a match found for her, as she is already in love with the tailor, Motel Kamzoil, her friend since childhood.
Tevye's horse is lame, and he must pull the cart himself. He asks God who it would hurt "If I Were a Rich Man"? 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 about pogroms and expulsions. A student from Kiev, Perchik, newly arrived in town, hears their conversation and scolds them for doing nothing more than talk. The men dismiss Perchik as a radical, but Tevye takes a liking to him and invites him home for the Sabbath meal, offering him room and board 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 shy and 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 around for the "Sabbath Prayer."
After the Sabbath, Tevye goes to meet Lazar at Mordcha's inn, and assumes mistakenly that Lazar wants to buy his milk cow. After the misunderstanding is cleared up, Tevye agrees to let Lazar marry Tzeitel – with a rich butcher, he knows that his daughter will never starve. 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 bumps into the Russian Constable, who has jurisdiction over the Jews in the town. The Constable warns him that there is going to be a "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, a hungover Tevye delivers the news to the family that he has agreed that Tzeitel will marry Lazar Wolf. Golde is overjoyed, but Tzeitel is horrified and pleads with Tevye to reconsider. Motel arrives and gathers the courage to tell Tevye that he and Tzeitel gave each other a pledge to marry. Tevye is outraged at this breach of tradition, but Motel argues that even a poor tailor is entitled to some happiness. Tevye is impressed when the once-timid young tailor stands up for himself and, moved by his daughter's earnestness, gives his assent ("Tevye's Monologue"); but he worries about how to break the news to Golde. An overjoyed Motel celebrates with Tzeitel ("Miracle of Miracles").
That night in bed with Golde, Tevye has an inspiration: he tells Golde that he has had a nightmare . She offers to interpret his dream, and Tevye "describes" it ("Tevye's Dream"). Golde's grandmother Tzeitel (for whom their daughter is named) returned from the grave to bless the marriage of her namesake, but to Motel, not to Lazar Wolf. Lazar's formidable late wife, Fruma Sarah, also rises from her grave to warn, in graphic terms, of severe retribution if Tzeitel marries Lazar. Tevye's superstitious wife is terrified, and she quickly counsels that Tzeitel must marry Motel, much to Tevye's secret relief. While returning from town, Tevye's middle 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. Ever practical, Tevye advises everyone to clean up the mess.
Tevye explains these events to an astonished Golde. "Love," he says, "it's the new style." Tevye asks Golde, "Do You Love Me?" She admits that after 25 years of living and struggling together and raising five daughters, she does. Other events are moving apace. Yente tells Tzeitel that she saw Chava with Fyedka. News spreads quickly in Anatevka ("The Rumor"). Perchik has been arrested and exiled to Siberia, 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, yet she will always love her family ("Far from the Home I Love").
Weeks pass, and 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 that he cannot cross. He forbids Chava ever to speak to Fyedka again. When Golde brings the news that Chava has eloped with Fyedka, Tevye wonders where he went wrong ("Chaveleh"). 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 forcing Jewish villagers to leave 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 the miserable town, and how hard it will be to leave what has for so long been their home ("Anatevka").
As the Jews leave Anatevka, Chava and Fyedka stop to tell her family that they too are leaving. Her mother and sisters are afraid to talk to her with Tevye present. Although Tevye does not speak directly to Chava, he mutters, "God be with you." As Tevye and his family leave the village for America, the fiddler begins to play. Tevye beckons with a nod, and the fiddler follows them out of the village.
Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical – Herschel Bernardi (nominee) 1990 Broadway revival Tony Awards
The musical's popularity has led to numerous references in popular media, including television shows (for example, in the season 5 episode of Gilmore Girls entitled "Jews and Chinese Food"), films (Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)) and even other Broadway shows (Spamalot, in the middle of the song "You Won't Succeed on Broadway", includes a "Grail dance", which sends up the "bottle dance" in Fiddler's wedding scene). Other cultural references include the following:Parodies