In Context: A Note From The Director Of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF
AUTHOR: David Ira Goldstein, ATC Artistic Director and Director of Fiddler on the Roof
When Fiddler on the Roof opened on Broadway in 1964, it was instantly embraced. Fiddler became the first Broadway show to run for more than 3,000 performances, it spawned hundreds of productions all over the world in dozens of languages, the imaginary little shtetl town of Anatevka became more famous than many actual towns, and the character of Tevye became as beloved and iconic as any character in literature. I daresay it has played every single day somewhere in the world over the last 52 years.
Based on a series of stories by the great Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem, Fiddler is set in the world of the Jewish Pale in pre-Revolutionary Tsarist Russia in 1905. It couldn’t be more specially steeped in the details of a very particular place and time and religion and culture. Yet the story of Tevye and his daughters has achieved a universality that seemingly transcends every geographic and cultural barrier.
I think that is because of the rich humanity of its characters, the devious humor, the honesty of its sentiments, the beauty of its score, and a dozen other theatrical marvels. But mostly I think it is because of the themes that shine so clearly in every scene.
Tradition. Family. Faith.
The themes at the heart of Fiddler on the Roof are universal and deeply rooted in all our cultures. Tradition, family, and faith are under siege in Tevye and Golde’s home – just as they were in the turbulent 1960s when Fiddler premiered – and just as they are today in a polarized environment quickly adjusting to enormous global change.
I was struck in rehearsals by how many of Tevye’s lines are in the form of questions. If an unexamined life is not worth living, Tevye examines his existence with intense Talmudic scrutiny. In his loving and delightfully familiar relationship with his God, Tevye knows the values of tradition and faith are truly alive only if they are always being examined for the truth at their core, and that family must be tended, cared for, and nurtured with steadfast love.