Fiddler on
the Roof

Tevye Topol
Golde Norma Crane
Motel Leonard Frey
Yente Molly Picon
Lazar Wolf Paul Mann
Tzeitel Rosalind Harris
Hodel Michelle Marsh
Chava Neva Small
Perchik Michael Glaser
Fyedka Raymond Lovelock


Fiddler on
the Roof

Produced and Directed by NORMAN JEWISON
Screenplay by JOSEPH STEIN Adapted from his Stage Play
Music for Stage Play and Film by JERRY BOCK
Lyrics for Stage Play and Film by
Produced on the New York Stage by
Entire Stage Production Directed and Choreographed by
Music Adapted and Conducted by
Original Choreography by
Adapted for the Screen by
Filmed in


Fiddler on
the Roof




Through beautiful montage work we are introduced to the people and traditions of the town of Anetevka as seen through the eyes of their poor Jewish milkman, Tevye. From the first frames, we know the film is going to be remarkably textured, each frame displaying a village that seems far more primitive then 1910 when the story is estimated to have taken place. The orchestra is perfection under the baton of the film's arranger/conductor John Williams. Maybe you've heard of him? We immediately now this will be a different experience then the stage production. We are presented with things that just can't be seen on stage: mud sloshing onto Tevye's boots as he dances in the road, dust flying up inside the barn and multiple locations within one musical number. This is a beautiful start to a wonderful film. The brilliance of this song is in its ability to introduce the village and our protagonist, but it also sets up the theme of the show. And what is that you may ask? I can tell you that in one word. "Tradition!"

As the song ends Tevye points out a fiddler on the roof and...



...The fiddler plays the main title while his sharp silhouette shares the screen with the film's production credits.

Quite often, people ask about the fiddler's meaning to the story. Although I am no scholar, I do have my own thoughts on the subject. The "Klezmer band" featured prominently in Russian/Jewish art which often highlighted either the fiddler or the clarinetist. So, the fiddler is already a cultural building block for the Eastern European Jew in the early 1900s.

A "Fiddler" on a pointed Roof would be in a precarious situation. While sliding his bow across the instrument, he'd have to be careful not to fall off of the roof to one side or the other. Only with great balance can he play the best music he can.

In "Fiddler on the Roof", Tevye lives life like he is also a fiddler on the roof. He is a good man who tries to live the best life he can for God. But is constantly pulled off to one side or the other. One one side of the roof is the traditions he and the village have grown with while the other side lies his three eldest daughters whose actions call for reform. When Tevye is faced with an issue he often states both sides of the story - or roof- to find the most balanced answer. When the Fiddler is featured in a scene, he is often representing what Tevye wants but is unwilling to say. These are just some of my thoughts. I would love to hear anyone else's opinion on the matter.



While finishing their chores before the Sabbath, Tevye's three eldest daughters- Tzeitel, Hodel and Chava- sing of their marriage wishes. Very similar to Jerome Robbins' original stage choreography, the song is great fun. But, musically, we are working with a much grander orchestra and the arrangements are filled with flourish. The girls give powerful performances and their brief interactions resemble the actions of true sisters. The song ends with the three girls joined by the youngest two daughters singing out of their upstairs window. Then the camera pans from them to the muddy road and their father returning home.



Fiddler on the Roof succeeds for many reasons, but one of the strongest is its universal appeal. All of us have imagined how our lives would changed if we were suddenly rolling in dough. This has always been Tevye's signature song but gains new life on the screen as he works in his barn tending the animals. Topol uses the song to get us totally involved with Tevye and his world. A remarkable achievement by all that are involved.



Up to this point, Fiddler has kept focus on lighter comedy. But, many of the themes to come are of the utmost seriousness. So, This song changes the tone ever so slightly. It is a beautiful and brilliant document of a Jewish Sabbath Prayer. The director is able to continue storytelling without losing reverence to the ritual. The children exchanging glances across the Sabbath table. Eventually, the song opens up to see others in the village also sharing in the Post-sundown prayer.



To Life is a bar song celebrating the Lazar Wolf/Tzeitel wedding agreement. It is a fun number that moves the story nicely along. All the Jews in the bar join in the celebration and break into traditional dancing. This attracts the attention of the Russian soldiers drinking nearby. This is the first time we actually see the tentative relationship the Jews have with the Christians. But for this one night, they break down an obvious barrier and in a great highlight, they begin to dance together. L'Chaim!



Tevye's oldest daughter Tzeitel is unhappy with the arranged marriage thrust upon her. Her childhood sweetheart, Motel forces Tevye to look past his traditions and trust their love pledge. Tevye changes his position and offers his blessing. The children run off to the beautiful woods to celebrate. 'Miracle of Miracle' is a light frolic through the trees. The nebbish Motel has become a man today and he recognizes it. The songwriters have crafted a clever song using a typical song topic and atypical lyrics.



tevye's eldest Tzeitel is very happy that Papa allowed her to marry Motel instead of Lazar Wolfe. But what will he tell his wife Golde to explain his change of heart? He concocts a dream to tell Golde. In this dream, Tevye and Golde are in their bedclothes in the middle of a graveyard. The dream is populated by all of their dearly departed, congratulating them on the upcoming marriage between Motel and Tzeitel. This news is compounded by the appearance of Fruma Sara, the promised husband's angry threatening first wife! The ruse works and Golde immediately discounts the initial marriage agreement with Lazar Wolfe in exchange for Motel!



Director Norman Jewison made a conscious effort to show viewers the beauty in many Jewish rituals. The grandest of these is Motel and Tzeitel's wedding. While the couple is under the canopy, the gorgeous Sunrise Sunset is heard representing the thoughts of the characters. With a breaking of glass, the song ends and leads into a huge high-energy celebration which includes an intriguing bottle dance, as strong a 'film musical' moment as they come. How can a stage production compare to that?



The first half of the film ended with the destruction of Tzeitel and Motels' wedding. From the Intermission, we return many months later to signs of life in Anetevka. The gorgeous orchestrations of "If I were a Rich Man", "To Life" and "Miracle of Miracles" provided ample time for moviegoers to return to their seats before we hear a Choral reprise of Tradition over the corn harvest visuals. Tevye offers an update on life to this point while on his milk route. Motel and Tzeitel have been married for some time and things are getting back to normal.



Once again, Tevye has to choose between his traditional ways and his daughter Hodel's love for Perchik. He chooses to give Hodel and Perchik his blessing and his permission for them to wed, even though love is all they have. As he considers this new world where love is the real matchmaker, Tevye asks his wife "Do you Love me?" This sweet song is presented very much like the stage version and adds a much needed smile to your face. There are few light moments left in this story.



While at a train depot with Tevye, Hodel explains her love for Perchik and her family. She is going to be with him many miles away, never to see her family again. The song is devastating so don't worry if your tear ducts start to sputter. Even the viewer is torn between the love for family and the man who is in prison far, far away.



Get ready to turn on the waterworks. Once again, Jewison doesn't show the song being 'sung' but 'thought.' Tevye is working hard to keep his mind occupied, but he is unsuccessful. He cannot get his mind off of Chava marrying outside of the faith. His thoughts are filled with his daughters dancing. In the dance, each is taken away. When Fyedka comes to take Chava's hand, the Fiddler appears trying to bring her back to balance. Isaac Stern's violin solo is amazing.



Director Jewison makes an interesting screen transfer decision. During this song, he chooses to show the buildings and items that fill the town rather than the people. Of course, on stage it was the other way around. And the result is a more natural pilgrimage. It is the situation, not the song that makes the scene work (a problem that doesn't exist on stage.) The final exodus contains a reprise of the song and comes closer to the stage version...


Fiddler on
the Roof
From Stage
to Screen


Fiddler on the Roof has a wonderful success story. The show focuses on one man's issues within his own family and faith. From that alone the show won universal appeal. Everyone can relate with Tevye's struggle. There on stage or screen we can see another adult who has choices to make everyday. That is a lot of stress and the musical expresses the sentiments wonderfully.

When it came time to put the show on film, the show went through some interesting changes. First, Norman Jewison was selected to direct the project. A self-proclaimed 'goy', Jewison doubted his own ability to capture all the details of Jewish life. But, instead of giving up, he researched and researched. One of the first changes came in casting. The popular comic Zero Mostel, who played Tevye on Broadway was the natural choice to take on the film role, but Jewison had a different opinion. He thought film makes the settings, textures and characters more realistic. So, this film would be less of a fantasy, less of a musical comedy than the stage production. He didn't want the film to resemble a Jewish vaudeville act so, he looked elsewhere for the leading man. He wanted someone who could realistically portray a Eastern European Jew. He found Chaim Topol who was 35 when they finished the film. Topol had played the role in the London Production of Fiddler on the Roof and was honored for his film performance as well.

Much of the film was filmed on location in Yugoslavia. At the time of filming, there were still many villages that had no electricity, telephones and operated with horse drawn carts. It was a perfect stand-in for 1910 Anatevka. Incidentally, Anatevka as well as tevye and his daughters were all the work of fiction, created by the Jewish humorist Sholom Aleichem. Some work was still done in a London studio when weather or environmental control was a necessity.

The movie musical stands as one of the strongest, most emotional in history. But it is not a Xerox copy of the stage production. The spectacular Production values, (gone were the stage production abstract paintings) are amazing. You can almost choke on the dust in the chicken coop; feel the mud sloshing as Tevye's mule takes his last journey back home; Appreciate the weight of the Milk Cart. Several times throughout Fiddler on the Roof a song is sung during a ritual. Whether it be folding the clothes, delivering milk, celebrating a wedding or the sabbath or feeding the livestock.

The song "the rumor" was removed. Additionally, Perchik's song "Now I have Everything" was taken out to be replaced with a new song "Any Day Now." That song was recorded but taken out of the show before it was filmed.

Fiddler on the Roof is a tremendous achievement.


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