One of Broadway’s most successful and beloved musicals, Fiddler on the Roof, will be examined through “Fiddler at 50,” a symposium presented by the Lewis Center for the Arts and the Program in American Studies at Princeton University. Opening on Broadway in 1964 the musical will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2014. A screening of the hit 1971 film version of the musical will take place at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, November 14, followed by a brief discussion. On Friday, November 15, from 10:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. a series of lectures and discussions by scholars, theater artists, and Fiddler lyricist Sheldon Harnick will explore the work as an icon of musical theater and its place in Jewish-American cultural history. All symposium events are free and open to the public.
The symposium is being organized by Jill Dolan, Princeton Professor in Theater, the Annan Professor in English and Director of the Program in Gender and Sexuality Studies, and Stacy Wolf, Princeton Professor in Theater and Director of the Princeton Atelier. It is an outgrowth of two courses this semester: the professors are co-teaching “Jewish Identity and Performance in the U.S.” and Wolf is teaching “Performance and Politics in the 1960s: Hippies and ‘Homos,’ Black Arts and Broadway.” The symposium is funded by the Lapidus Fund in American Jewish Studies in Princeton’s Program in American Studies.
“Fiddler on the Roof is still considered one of the greatest classic musicals of the Broadway stage and is performed constantly by school, camp, community, and professional theatres all over the world,” notes Wolf. “Though it takes place in an early 20th-century shtetl, it’s truly an expression of the struggles over gender roles, authority in the family, and social change in the U.S. during the 1960s.”
“Theatre and performance always represent a rich archive of experience and cultural memories,” adds Dolan. “The long history of Fiddler on the Roof has much to tell us about Jewish traditions, feelings about assimilation, and the project of Americanization. For so many American Jews, Fiddler’s songs and stories strike resonant chords, many of which will be recalled and considered in our symposium.”
Fiddler on the Roof, with music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, and book by Joseph Stein, opened on Broadway on September 22, 1964, and ran for a record-setting total of 3,242 performances. The original production was nominated for ten Tony Awards, winning nine, including Best Musical and for score, book, direction, and Jerome Robbins’ choreography. Classic songs from the show include “Sunrise, Sunset,” “Matchmaker,” and “If I Were a Rich Man.” Zero Mostel originated the role of Tevye the milkman and Maria Karnilova the role of his wife, Golde (each of whom won a Tony for their performances), with Bea Arthur as Yente the matchmaker. The musical was made into a film in 1971, winning three Academy Awards. Fiddler on the Roof has received numerous productions including in London’s West End, in four Broadway revivals, at regional theaters, and by hundreds of community theater groups and schools.
Set in Tsarist Russia in 1905, the show is based on Tevye and his Daughters (or Tevye the Dairyman) and other tales by Sholom Aleichem. The story centers on Tevye, the father of five daughters, and his attempts to maintain his family and Jewish religious traditions while outside influences encroach upon their lives. He must cope both with the strong-willed actions of his three older daughters—each one's choice of husband moves further away from the customs of his faith—and with the edict of the Tsar that evicts the Jews from their village. The musical's title stems from the painting "The Fiddler" by Marc Chagall, one of many paintings he created of Eastern European Jewish life, often including a fiddler as a metaphor for survival, through tradition and joyfulness, in a life of uncertainty and imbalance.
Students in Dolan’s and Wolf’s courses will provide a dramaturgical introduction of the film on November 14 and facilitate a brief discussion following. On November 15, the day will include an interview with Harnick and talks by theater scholars: Jeremy Dauber, author of The World of Sholom Aleichem; Alisa Solomon, author of Wonder of Wonders: A Cultural History of Fiddler on the Roof; and Jenna Weissman Joselit whose many books include The Wonders of America: Reinventing Jewish Culture, 1880-1950, which received the National Jewish Book Award in History, and A Perfect Fit: Clothes, Character, and the Promise of America. Interviews with actress Joanna Merlin, who originated the role of eldest daughter Tzeitl, and with Broadway director John Doyle will be featured. Doyle is currently teaching in Princeton’s Program in Theater. A reception will cap off the day.
ARTIST & SCHOLAR PARTICIPANTS
Sheldon Harnick, Lyricist
Joanna Merlin, Actor
John Doyle, Director
Alisa Solomon, Columbia University
Jeremy Dauber, Columbia University
Jenna Weissman Joselit, George Washington University
Presented by the Lewis Center for the Arts and the Program in American Studies at Princeton University, with funding from the Lapidus Fund in American Jewish Studies in Princeton’s Program in American Studies.