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WONDER OF WONDERS by Alisa Solomon


A Cultural History of Fiddler on the Roof

by Alisa Solomon

Pub Date: Oct. 22nd, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-8050-9260-8
Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

Raising the roof on one of the most successful and resonant works in the history of Broadway.

Solomon (Arts and Culture/Columbia Univ. Graduate School of Journalism; Re-Dressing the Canon: Essays on Theatre and Gender, 1997, etc.) presents a comprehensive history of the long-running and much-revived Broadway musical Fiddler on the Roof, the iconic production that broke box-office records, swept the Tony Awards, inspired a hit Hollywood movie, and, for many, defined and fixed the details of traditional Jewish life in the popular imagination. The author marshals impressive quantities of research to trace Fiddler’s history, beginning with its origins in the writings of Sholem Aleichem, a prominent Yiddish writer whose late-19th-century stories about Tevye the dairyman, which portrayed shtetl life in a warmly realistic style, served as the source material for what would become the musical institution. The Tevye material was adapted over the ensuing decades with varying levels of success—Solomon scrupulously documents every permutation, which becomes a bit tiresome—eventually finding its way to Broadway in 1964 in the form of Fiddler on the Roof, shepherded by director and choreographer Jerome Robbins and starring comic force of nature Zero Mostel. The creation of the Broadway show provides the book’s richest passages, as the anxious, insecure Robbins clashes with the obstreperous Mostel and a miraculous confluence of talents and personalities achieve the elusive alchemy of great theatrical art. The remainder of the narrative, which covers the show’s adaptation into the successful film version and subsequent reimaginings—including a controversial staging at a black junior high in racially fraught late-1960s Brooklyn and an embattled Polish production in the early 2000s—serves as an illuminating but comparatively lackluster footnote. Solomon has done her homework; unfortunately, homework is what this worthy but dryly academic chronicle too often feels like.

Everything a Fiddler fan could hope to learn but with little to entice general readers.