Fiddler on the Roof is an American musical with music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick and book by Joseph Stein. The plot is centred around the Jewish community of Anatevka, a village in Tsarist Russia at the turn of the 20th century, and in particular Tevye the milkman and his five daughters. Fiddler on the Roof is based on stories by Salumon Naumovich Rabinovich (who wrote under the pseudonym of Sholem Aleichem) which were originally published in Yiddish in 1894. The title is taken from a painting, The Fiddler by Marc Chagall, and refers to the Jewish community members' attempts to maintain their precarious position in an uncertain world.
The best known song from the musical is "If I Were a Rich Man", a recording of which by Chaim Topol entered the U.K. Singles Chart on April 20, 1967 and remained in the chart for twenty consecutive weeks, peaking at number 9.
The musical opened at the Imperial Theater on Broadway on September 22, 1964, starring Zero Mostel as Tevye. It ran for three thousand two hundred and forty-two performances in its initial Broadwy run, was nominated for ten Tony Awards and won nine. Four Broadway revivals followed.
The first performance in London's West-End was at Her Majesty's Theatre on February 16, 1967. The Israeli actor Topol starred as Tevye. Fiddler on the Roof ran for two thousand and thirty performances in its initial West-End run and was revived there three times.
Fiddler on the Roof continues to be regularly performed by amateur and professional companies throughout the world.
A film version directed by Norman Jewison, which follows the original stage version very closely, was released in 1971. Topol starred as Tevye, as he had previously done in the fist London production. The film won three Academy Awards.
The role of tradition in the story
One of the themes explored in the plot is the tension between adhering to generations of tradition against adjusting to the demands of a changing world. The first song in the show is "Tradition" which describes how the lives of the people in the village are guided by the way things have been done, creating a predictability in the villagers' lives and roles. Throughout the plot, personal and wider political factors are pushing the characters out of their traditional roles. Within Tevye's family, his older daughters want a say in who they marry, which conflicts with the tradition of arranged marriages. Each of the three older daughters stretches this tradition in a different way with different results. On a broader scale, the village is experiencing changes due to the larger political environment: there are conflicts between the Jewish community and the Eastern European culture within which they reside.
In an interesting twist, the music and lyrics that were originally created for this fictional story are now often used to celebrate life events, becoming almost "traditional".
- Tevye - a poor milkman.
- Golde - Tevye's wife.
- Tzeitel - Tevye and Golde's oldest daughter, in love with Motel.
- Hodel - Tevye and Golde's daughter, in love with Perchik.
- Chava - Tevye and Golde's daughter, in love with Fyedka.
- Shprintze and Bielke - Tevye and Golde's youngest daughters.
- Motel Kamzoil - a tailor who wants to marry Tzeitel.
- Perchik - a student and Bolshevik revolutionary who wants to marry Hodel.
- Fyedka - a gentile who wants to marry Chava.
- Lazar Wolf - the butcher, a widower who was supposed to marry Tzeitel.
- Yente - the village matchmaker and gossip.
- Fruma-Sarah - Lazar Wolf's late wife, her ghost appears during the number, Tevye's Dream.
- Grandma Tzeitel - Golde's late grandmother, her ghost appears during the number, Tevye's Dream.
- Modcha the innkeeper.
- The village rabbi.
- The constable - a gentile who is the chief representative of Tsarist authority in Anatevka.
Fiddler on the Roof opens with Tevye the milkman explaining the importance of tradition to the Jewish community in Anatevka. The scene changes to Tevye's home where his wife Golde and their five daughters are busy preparing for the Sabbath meal. Yente the matchmaker arrives and says that Lazar Wolf, a rich butcher who is older than Tevye, wants to marry the oldest daughter Tzeitel. Tzeitel's younger sisters Hodel and Chava are excited by the news but Tzeitel is not because she wants to marry Motel the tailor.
Tevye is seen delivering milk, pulling the cart himself because his horse is lame. He meets Avram the bookseller who tells him he has heard news of attacks on Jews and expulsions of Jews from their homes in other parts of Russia. Perchik, a young student who is a stranger in town, overhears them and criticizes them for merely talking about the situation and not doing anything to stop it. Although Avram and Tevye do not approve of Perchik's radical point of view, Tevye invites Perchik to join his family for the Sabbath meal and to stay at his home as tutor to his daughters.
Golde tells Tevye that Lazar Wolf wants to speak to him. After the Sabbath the two men meet at the village inn. At first Tevye believes that Lazar Wolf wants to buy his cow. After the misunderstanding is cleared up, Tevye is happy to agree to the marriage between Lazar Wolf and Tzeitel. Everybody in the inn celebrates their good fortune, including a group of young Russian gentiles.
Outside the inn, the constable warns Tevye that a "little unofficial demonstration", an attack on the Jewish community, will soon take place. The constable himself respects Tevye and bears no animosity towards the Jewish community but he is powerless to prevent the violence.
The following day Perchik mocks Hodel for constantly clinging to tradition. He challenges the traditional separation of the sexes by dancing with her, and so their romantic relationship begins.
Tzeitel tells her father that she does not want to marry Lazar Wolf. Motel the tailor arrives. He tells Tevye of his wish to marry Tzeitel, saying that he is saving up to buy a sewing machine and promising that she will not go hungry. Tevye is shocked by the young people's disregard for tradition but he admires Motel's courage. He agrees to the marriage but is left with the problem of how to tell Golde about it.
That night Tevye pretends to wake from a nightmare. He tells Golde about his "dream" because she wants to interpret it. Tevye says that he dreamt that Golde's Grandmother Tzeitel reurned from the grave to bless the wedding of the young Tzeitel. However, she insists that the marriage will be to Motel, not to Lazar Wolf. The ghost of Lazar Wolf's first wife Fruma-Sarah then appears. She warns of the terrible suffering that Tzeitel will face if she dares to marry Lazar Wolf. Upon hearing this, Golde immediately decides that Tzeitel should marry Motel instead.
Tevye's third daughter Chava is bullied by a group of Russian gentile youths. However one, Fyedka, protects her, chases the others away and loans her a book. This is the beginning of a secret relationship between the two of them.
At the wedding of Tzeitel and Motel, Lazar Wolf offers a fine present but begins to argue with Tevye about the broken agreement with them. The argument stops when Perchik challenges tradition again by ignoring the division between male and female guests to dance with Hodel. The wedding reception ends abruptly when a group of Russian gentiles arrive, the violence that the constable had warned of earlier. The wedding gifts are damaged and Perchik is wounded. The Russians leave and Tevye advises everyone to clear up the mess.
The action in Act II takes place several months after the events in Act I. Perchik tells Hodel that he has to return to Kiev to work towrds the revolution. He says that he will send for her later and proposes marriage. Hodel and Perchik tell Tevye of their wish to marry. He is angered by their overturning traditionand making their own match and refuses to give permission. However, the young couple tell Tevye that they are not asking for his permission, only for his blessing. After more consideration, Tevye concludes that he has to change with a changing world and gives his blessing and his permission.
Tevye tells Golde that Perchik and Hodel are marrying for love and asks his wife if she loves him. At first, Golde says that it is a foolish question and refuses to answer it. Eventually she says that after twenty-five years together, raising five daughters, she has grown to love Tevye.
Motel buys the sewing machine that he had long beeen saving for and he and Hodel have a baby. Rumors spread that Perchik has been arrested and sent to Siberia. Hodel leaves anatevka to join him.
Chava asks her father for permission to marry Fyedka. Tevye considers the matter carefully but concludes that he can not allow his child to marry outside the Jewish faith. Chava runs away with Fyedka and tevye refuses to speak to her again or even to acknowledge her existence.
Rumors spread that the Jews will soon be forced to leave Anatevka. The constable suddenly arrives and tells all the Jewish villagers that they have three days to pack their belongings and leave. Chava tells her family that she and Fyedka are goig to Krakow because they can not continue living in a place where such a thing could happen, although Tevye still refuses to talk to her. Tevye, Golde and their two youngest daughters announce that they are going to live in the United States. Motel and Tzeitel say that they are moving to Poland but will join the rest of the family in America when they have saved enough money.
- Prologue/Tradition - Tevye and the Company
- Matchmaker - Tzeitel, Hodel and Chava
- If I Were a Rich Man - Tevye
- Sabbath Prayer - Tevye, Golde and the Company
- Tevye's Monologue - Tevye
- Miracle of Miracles - Motel
- Tevye's Dream - Tevye, Golde, Grandma Tzeutel, Fruma-Sarah and the Company
- Sunrise Sunset - Tevye, Golde, Perchik, Hodel and the Company
- The Bottle Dance - Instrumental
- Entr'acte - the Orchestra
- Now I Have Everything - Perchik and Hodel
- Tevye's Rebuttal - Tevye
- Do You Love Me? - Tevye and Golde
- The Rumor/I Just Heard - Yente and villagers
- Far From the Home I Love - Hodel
- Chaveleh (Little Bird) - Tevye
- Anatevka - The Company
- The Leave Taking - tevye, Family and Fiddler