Jerome Robbins first discovered the shtetl when he was six years old. He was born on the Lower East Side, home of immigrants from Eastern Europe. His father took him to Poland to see where his Rabinowitz family came from.
While its central motif is a precariously perched violinist, “Fiddler on the Roof” has about as tight a grip on the Jewish — and non-Jewish — imagination as any work of popular culture. This was abundantly in evidence on Monday night, at the jubilant celebration of the 50th anniversary of the iconic musical, orchestrated by the Folksbiene Yiddish Theatre.
With all the hoopla surrounding the 50th anniversary of “Fiddler on the Roof” on Broadway, the musical’s final scene of the shtetl-dwelling Jews being forced off their land lingers in our minds. But to visual artist and playwright Tom Block, it is not just Jews, but Arabs as well, who have suffered displacement from a cherished homeland.
For a musical about the ravages of time on an ancestral heritage, “Fiddler on the Roof” has itself aged remarkably well. While much has changed in the half-century since “Fiddler” first had its Broadway debut, the Jerry Bock-Sheldon Harnick-Joseph Stein musical inspired by the dissolution of the Eastern European Jewish way of life still crystallizes for American Jews the value of their Jewish roots.
He may be best known as the lyricist for “Fiddler on the Roof,” but Sheldon Harnick, who turns 90 this year, is one of the most prolific artists in the American musical theater. Now, audiences will have a rare opportunity to see some of Harnick’s lesser-known works, including some for which he also wrote the book and music. For its annual Musicals in Mufti series, the York Theatre Company is staging four forgotten Harnick musicals over the next two months (yorktheatre.org,  935-5820).
Alisa Solomon looks at the deep imprint made by ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’ as the 50th anniversary of the show’s Broadway debut nears.
In the spring of 1969, a group of black and Puerto Rican junior high school students staged “Fiddler on the Roof” in Brownsville, Brooklyn, as black-Jewish tension swirled around them amidst school and community board controversies and teacher strikes. Richard Piro, the drama teacher directing the production, believed that the show would give these kids a more sympathetic understanding of Jews. The principal would have preferred “Guys and Dolls.”
True to its vertiginous title, “Fiddler on the Roof” has become the most elevated and exalted of all Jewish musicals. Now comes a touring production of “Fiddler” that seeks to bring the musical down to earth with a focus on the show’s simpler, purer aspects rather than its larger-than-life qualities.
The recent passing — just nine days apart — of Jerry Bock, 81, composer for “Fiddler On The Roof,” and Joseph Stein, 98, who wrote the musical’s book (based, of course, on Sholom Aleichem’s short stories), leads us — those old enough, anyway — to recall and honor the remarkable energizing impact that the show had on the Jewish community of 1964.
Jerry Seinfeld said the other week that his first visit to Broadway “was when my parents probably shlepped me to ‘Fiddler on the Roof.” So it was for a lot of us.
My story this week is about the scholars who are pushing hard against myths about the shtetl, especially the kind peddled by "Fiddler on the Roof."
As it happens, the composer of that Tony-winning classic died yesterday: Jerry Bock, at 81. Eerily, the writer of the musical's book, Joseph Stein, died ten days before. They both will be missed, deeply.