This very affectionate look at the creation and the longevity of this classic Broadway Musical examines why Fiddler on the Roof resounds way beyond the orthodox Jewish community that it was set in.
In this his third documentary filmmaker Max Lewkowicz talks to all the principal players who were responsible for turning what seemed the most unlikely idea for a musical back in the 1960’s into a mammoth worldwide hit, that we are informed had been played somewhere every single day since its Broadway opening. Lewkowicz is fortunate that most of the original creative team, with the notable exception of director Jerry Robbins and star Zero Mostel, are still alive and their detailed accounts make for compelling viewing.
He interperses them with interviews of some of the many cast members over the years including Michael Bernardi who got to play Tevye the lead role in 2014. almost 30 years after his father Herschel Bernardi had starred in a Broadway revival .
It was the universality of the piece that everyone related: the poverty, the religious persecution, being forced out of house and home and becoming reluctant refugees. Also it was the tale of a deeply devoted father that had to make the unnatural choice of abandoning his daughter simply his convictions and tradition instead. When you study the whole story you appreciate that despite this was a musical, it had a very dark tone., and reflected the state of affairs in many places around the globe today.
It was fascinating how so many people took ownership of the plat and how an actor in the Tokyo production asked Jerry Bock the lycist if American audiences could relate to it as he explained this was after all a very Japanese story.
Lewkowicz’s film does not reveal a great deal of new facts about this 55 year old Musical but he does indulge in little known aspects such as the fact that if the newspapers had not been on strike during the Show’s original try out in Detroit, it may have closed there and then as the reviews were really bad. There are tales of how Robbin’s genius turned it all around but not with several out bursts of his very infamous bad temper.
Robbins and his star Mostel were at odds before they even started working as Robbins had given testimony to the Committee of Un-American Activities naming names, It is believed he was blackmailed to participate to avoid him being publicly outed as gay.
The most important thought that Lewkowicz leaves us with is the fact this was the first long-running Broadway smash hit musical that had real substance and depth and has still not been usurped from that position even today. 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
As long as the world contains people and races persecuted for what and whom there are, then the Fiddler will keep playing his tune