Fiddler on the Roof is a musical with music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, and book by Joseph Stein, set in the Pale of Settlement of Imperial Russia in or around 1905. It is based on Tevye and his Daughters (or Tevye the Dairyman) and other tales by Sholem Aleichem. The story centers on Tevye, a milkman in the village of Anatevka, who attempts to maintain his Jewish religious and cultural traditions as outside influences encroach upon his family's lives. He must cope with the strong-willed actions of his three older daughters who wish to marry for love; their choices of husbands are successively less palatable for Tevye. An edict of the tsar eventually evicts the Jews from their village.
The original Broadway production of the show, which opened in 1964, had the first musical theatre run in history to surpass 3,000 performances. Fiddler held the record for the longest-running Broadway musical for almost 10 years until Grease surpassed its run. The production was extraordinarily profitable and highly acclaimed. It won nine Tony Awards, including best musical, score, book, direction and choreography. It spawned five Broadway revivals and a highly successful 1971 film adaptation and has enjoyed enduring international popularity. It has also been a popular choice for school and community productions.
Tevye, a poor Jewish milkman with five daughters, explains the customs of the Jews in the Russian shtetl of Anatevka in 1905, where their lives are as precarious as the perch of a fiddler on a roof (\"Tradition\"). At Tevye's home, everyone is busy preparing for the Sabbath meal. His sharp-tongued wife, Golde, orders their daughters, Tzeitel, Hodel, Chava, Shprintze and Bielke, about their tasks. Yente, the village matchmaker, arrives to tell Golde that Lazar Wolf, the wealthy butcher, a widower older than Tevye, wants to wed Tzeitel, the eldest daughter. The next two daughters, Hodel and Chava, are excited about Yente's visit, but Tzeitel illustrates how it could have bad results (\"Matchmaker, Matchmaker\"). A girl from a poor family must take whatever husband Yente brings, but Tzeitel wants to marry her childhood friend, Motel the tailor.
Tevye is delivering milk, pulling the cart himself, as his horse is lame. He asks God: Whom would it hurt \"If I Were a Rich Man\" The bookseller tells Tevye news from the outside world of pogroms and expulsions. A stranger, Perchik, hears their conversation and scolds them for doing nothing more than talk. The men dismiss Perchik as a radical, but Tevye invites him home for the Sabbath meal and offers him food and a room 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 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 for the \"Sabbath Prayer\".
In bed with Golde, Tevye pretends to be waking from a nightmare. Golde offers to interpret his dream, and Tevye \"describes\" it (\"Tevye's Dream\"). Golde's grandmother Tzeitel returns from the grave to bless the marriage of her namesake, but to Motel, not to Lazar Wolf. Lazar's formidable late wife, Fruma-Sarah (\"frum\" is a Yiddish word for a devout Jew), rises from her grave to warn, in graphic terms, of severe retribution if Tzeitel marries Lazar. The superstitious Golde is terrified, and she quickly counsels that Tzeitel must marry Motel. While returning from town, Tevye's third daughter, the bookish Chava, is teased and intimidated by some gentile youths. One, Fyedka, protects her, dismissing the others. He offers Chava the loan of a book, and a secret relationship begins.
As the Jews leave Anatevka, Chava and Fyedka stop to tell her family that they are also leaving for Kraków, unwilling to remain among the people who could do such things to others. Tevye still will not talk to her, but when Tzeitel says goodbye to Chava, Tevye prompts her to add \"God be with you.\" Motel and Tzeitel go to Poland as well but will join the rest of the family when they have saved up enough money. As Tevye, Golde and their two youngest daughters leave the village for America, the fiddler begins to play. Tevye beckons with a nod, and the fiddler follows them out of the village.
The cast included Zero Mostel as Tevye the milkman, Maria Karnilova as his wife Golde (each of whom won a Tony for their performances), Beatrice Arthur as Yente the matchmaker, Austin Pendleton as Motel, Bert Convy as Perchik the student revolutionary, Gino Conforti as the fiddler, and Julia Migenes as Hodel. Mostel ad-libbed increasingly as the run went on, \"which drove the authors up the wall\". Joanna Merlin originated the role of Tzeitel, which was later assumed by Bette Midler during the original run. Carol Sawyer was Fruma Sarah, Adrienne Barbeau took a turn as Hodel, and Pia Zadora played the youngest daughter, Bielke. Both Peg Murray and Dolores Wilson made extended appearances as Golde, while other stage actors who have played Tevye include Herschel Bernardi, Theodore Bikel and Harry Goz (in the original Broadway run), and Leonard Nimoy. Mostel's understudy in the original production, Paul Lipson, went on to appear as Tevye in more performances than any other actor (until Chaim Topol), clocking over 2,000 performances in the role in the original run and several revivals. Florence Stanley took over the role of Yente nine months into the run. The production earned $1,574 for every dollar invested in it. It was nominated for ten Tony Awards, winning nine, including Best Musical, score, book, direction and choreography, and acting awards for Mostel and Karnilova.
A film version was released by United Artists in 1971, directed and produced by Norman Jewison, and Stein adapted his own book for the screenplay. Chaim Topol starred. The film received mostly positive reviews from film critics and became the highest-grossing film of 1971. Fiddler received eight Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director for Jewison, Best Actor in a Leading Role for Topol, and Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Leonard Frey (as Motel; in the original Broadway production, Frey was the rabbi's son). It won three, including best score/adaptation for arranger-conductor John Williams.
References to the musical on television have included a 2005 episode of Gilmore Girls titled \"Jews and Chinese Food\", involving a production of the musical. A skit by The Electric Company about a village fiddler with a fear of heights, so he is deemed \"Fiddler on the Chair\". In the Family Guy episode \"When You Wish Upon a Weinstein\" (2003), William Shatner is depicted as playing Tevye in a scene from Fiddler. The second episode of Muppets Tonight, in 1996, featured Garth Brooks doing a piece of \"If I were a Rich Man\" in which he kicks several chickens off the roof. \"The Rosie Show\", a 1996 episode of The Nanny, parodied the dream scene, when Mr. Sheffield fakes a dream to convince Fran not to be a regular on a TV show. A 2011 episode of NBC's Community, entitled \"Competitive Wine Tasting\", included a parody titled Fiddla, Please! with an all-black cast dressed in Fiddler on the Roof costumes, singing \"It's Hard to Be Jewish in Russia, Yo\". Chabad.org kicked off their 2008 \"To Life\" telethon with a pastiche of the fiddle solo and bottle dance from the musical.
Broadway references have included Spamalot, where a \"Grail dance\" sends up the \"bottle dance\" in Fiddler's wedding scene. In 2001, Chicago's Improv Olympic produced a well-received parody, \"The Roof Is on Fiddler\", that used most of the original book of the musical but replaced the songs with 1980s pop songs. The original Broadway cast of the musical Avenue Q and the Broadway 2004 revival cast of Fiddler on the Roof collaborated for a Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS benefit and produced an approximately 10-minute-long show, \"Avenue Jew\", that incorporated characters from both shows, including puppets.
Fiddler's original Broadway production in 1964 was nominated for ten Tony Awards, winning nine, including Best Musical, score, and book, and Robbins won for best direction and choreography. Mostel and Karnilova won as best leading actor and best featured actress. In 1972, the show won a special Tony on becoming the longest-running musical in Broadway history.
Winner of nine Tony Awards when it debuted in 1964, Fiddler on the Roof is the brainchild of Broadway legends, Jerome Robbins and Harold Prince; songwriters, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick; and bookwriter, Joseph Stein. Touching audiences worldwide with its humor, warmth and honesty, this universal show is a staple of the musical theatre canon.