I had just finished reading a terrific Broadway history book about FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, called TRADITION! by Barbara Isenberg, when I went to see the latest incarnation of the show on Broadway.
The book covers the behind-the-scenes story of the show from the time the creators, Joseph Stein, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, thought of the idea of musicalizing Sholom Aleichem’s stories of life on the shtetls of Russia to the phenomenon that FIDDLER became. I always love stories of “the making of” various hits and this one was particularly fascinating to me. Part of the original staging and choreography was inspired, for example, by the fact that the creator of the role of Tevye, the incredible Zero Mostel, had a bad leg. Volatile Jerome Robbins was the director and choreographer, and his antics are always fun to read about, but hey, I think so because I never had to suffer the pain of working with the likes of him myself. (I found when I was researching the background of the show GYPSY that one of the people involved with it had wanted to flat-out kill him…)
In any event, this new version of FIDDLER stars Danny Burstein as Tevye the dairyman with five daughters to marry off and Jessica Hecht as the bride he was matched up with twenty-five years earlier, Golde. I can’t say enough good things about this production! The dancing, in particular, was fantastic, and the singing, particularly during the ensemble numbers, was out of this world.
If there was anything I found about this production that might have been done differently it was the new beginning and ending of the show. (Spoiler alert!)
A modern man comes onto the stage in a red parka.
He’s reading something. A guidebook? Sholom Alecheim stories? A recounting of his own family’s history? It isn’t clear exactly what, or why. My one critique is that more of an explanatory scene, or at least a few lines, could have been added here, i.e., have him ask someone, “Is this Anatevka? My great-great grandfather came from here.”
In any event, whatever the man is reading, or doing in Anatevka, he begins to “see” the people of the village of Anatevka as they arrive on the stage, seemingly rising out of the mist, which is beautifully effective. Then the modern man takes off the red parka and morphs into Tevye, and then the musical begins as it always has, with the production number “Tradition.”
He’s in the parka again at the end, Tevye, and it’s implied that the whole village now living within the modern man.
Well, as anyone who’s ever seen FIDDLER can tell you, that whole mythical village, once you’ve seen it on a stage, starts to reside within all of us. A cast recording is, I’m told, in negotiation at the moment, and news of when it will be available should be announced fairly soon.
I highly recommend this production of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, and the book, TRADITION!, too!