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REVIEW: To Life! Fiddler A Miracle of Miracles Documentary Review

Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles cover art poster

Fiddler A Miracle of Miracles the new documentary about the making of Fiddler on the Roof opened in select theaters on Friday, August 24th. Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles is the story behind one of Broadway’s most beloved musicals, Fiddler on The Roof, and its creative roots in early 1960s New York, when “tradition” was on the wane as gender roles, sexuality, race relations, and religion were evolving.

The new documentary (beautifully dedicated in honor of Harold Prince) explores the iconic piece from page to stage. It takes a look and talks about how Joseph Stein (Book), Sheldon Harnick (Lyricist), and Jerry Brock (Music) were inspired by Sheldon Achaim story and how they took his stories and made a musical. Fiddler on the Roof opened on September 22nd, 1964 at the Imperial Theatre.

This movie is beautifully done weaving in pieces of the recent 2015 Broadway Revival, the Chichester Festival UK production, the movie version, and the Off-Broadway Yiddish production. The theme that we can take away from this movie and from Fiddler on the Roof (if it wasn’t clear already) was the message of “tradition” and family The film also explores some interesting concepts which never crossed my mind, and are very relevant to today’s world. When the show came out the country was already in a changing motion—and the new way of the world—the show was a coming in as times were changing, both in the show and in the real world.

One of the themes talked about how the show deals with women empowerment and changing times. How the three daughters were of this “new generation” of Jewish girls wanted to marry for love rather than who their father chose. Ultimately the biggest example of this is when Chava decides to marry to Fyedka and is excommunicated from her family for marrying “outside” the religion.

Imperial Theater, 1964

Photo Credit: Friedman-Abeles, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

Courtesy of Roadside Attractions and Samuel Goldwyn Films

Another interesting focus was the critic's perception of Fiddler on the Roof. When they originally were out of town for their first tryout in Detroit the show was not very good. It just so happened there was a writer’s strike, so no reviews were published in the paper, potentially saving the show from publicized bad reviews. When it got to Broadway the show was not well-reviewed either—but that did not stop people from seeing it. It showed this interesting parallel of how the reviews ripped it apart, but the next day, and days after, there were lines around the block to get tickets.

There was a lot of mention and focus on director Jerome Robbins who was not supposed to be the original director. Stein, Bock, and Harnick originally asked Hal Prince to direct and he felt he was not a good fit—he decided instead to produce it. For Jerome (“Jerry” as they called him) he was not too sure he wanted to direct this either. There was an interesting part of this film where they mention how he hated Judaism and all the traditional things his family from Eastern Europe made him do. In 1958 he had gone back to visit where his family was from in Eastern Europe and It was gone—nothing remained—completely wiped away from the holocaust. It affected him deeply and they feel that is what made the show so special to him.

Jerome Robbins, Choreographer

Photo Credit: Philippe Halsman Magnum Photos

Courtesy of Roadside Attractions and Samuel Goldwyn Films

One of the reasons they wanted Jerry to direct to was that he would bring his flair to the show. He had said to Hal Prince that he wanted the dancing to not be “showy” but be about “tradition” and be how these people in the Jewish culture dance. The tradition of the dancing. He noted that they were “going to dance when they needed to dance, and not dance when they didn’t need to.”

Many guests make appearances in the film including Stephen Sondheim, Chaim Topol (Tevye in the Fiddler on the Roof movie), Joel Gray, Bartlett Sher, and Lin Manuel Miranda (to name a few)—each interview tells a special story or tale of how the show affected that person. Lin’s reaction to this show is magical--- for his wedding he surprised his wife by having him, his father-in-law and wedding party dance to “L’Chaim”.

Zero Mostel in Fiddler On The Roof, Broadway, 1964

Photo Credit: Friedman-Abeles, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

Courtesy of Roadside Attractions and Samuel Goldwyn Films

During the process of casting and developing the 1971 Fiddler on the Roof film, they had decided to go with a “no-name” Chaim Topol as Tevye instead of Zero Mostel, the original Tevye. They felt Topol brought something original and fresh to the role as an Israeli actor, and the way he would deliver it was much different than how it was played on the stage.

At the end of the day—Fiddler teaches us all about looking to our Traditions to help guide us and what makes us who we were. How we can balance tradition and changing times. If you want an inside look at how this masterpiece was made, and how the film was made then I strongly suggest you check this out while you can!!

If you are in New York City you can catch Fiddler A Miracle of Miracles at The Landmark at 57 West and Quad Cinema.


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