September 22, 1964: The original Broadway production of Fiddler on the Roof opens. The story is based on Tevye and his Daughters or Tevye the Milkman and was originally titled Tevye. The original story was written by Sholem Aleichem in 1894. The tale was first written in Yiddish and the musical’s title gives a nod to the Marc Chagall painting entitled “The Fiddler.” This was just one of many paintings depicting Jewish life of Eastern Europe, many of which contained a fiddler, a metaphor for the joyousness of life lived in a rich tradition rife with uncertainty.
This original Broadway production began at the Imperial Theatre, transferred to the Majestic Theater in 1967, and finally moved to The Broadway Theater in 1970. The show ran for 3,242 performances. It was directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins with a set design by Boris Aronson. Zero Mostel starred as Tevye the milkman with Maria Karnilova playing his wife, Golde. Both won Tony awards for their performances. Paul Lipson was Mostel’s understudy and went on to perform in the role of Tevye more than 2,000 times – more than any other actor.
The show opened in London in 1967 and played for 2,030 performances. There have been other revivals and even a film version of Fiddler. The two act musical contains ten major songs in the first act and another nine in the second. Tevye and Golde are on stage with their five daughters, four suitors for the daughters, a village matchmaker, and other elders of the village.
The play is set in Russia in 1905 and opens with Tevya explaining the precarious life of Jews at this time. A matchmaker comes by and sets up matches for the older daughters. The struggles of daily life are a theme throughout. There is even talk of a minor pogrom in the near future. The eldest daughter makes a successful match and is married. After the wedding, the Jews are told they all must leave the village, the pogrom has arrived. In the second act takes place months later, as the revolution continues Tevya is again faced with the flouting of tradition as his second daughter has arranged her own marriage. Life goes on and the daughters continue to astound their parents. Tevya’s third daughter wishes to marry outside the faith causing a crisis. As time moves on, the family survives, but is scattered across two continents.
Perchik: In this world it is the rich who are the criminals. Someday their wealth will be ours.
Tevye: That would be nice. If they would agree, I would agree.
[about Yente, the matchmaker]
Tzeitel: But Mama, the men she finds. The last one was so old and he was bald. He had no hair.
Golde: A poor girl without a dowry can’t be so particular. You want hair, marry a monkey.
Perchik: Money is the world’s curse.
Tevye: May the Lord smite me with it. And may I never recover.
Tevye: Sometimes I think, when it gets too quiet up there, You say to Yourself, “What kind of mischief can I play on My friend Tevye?”