by Linda Lombardi, Literary Manager
It seems only fitting that, as we celebrate our 65th anniversary season at Arena Stage, we also celebrate the 50th anniversary of Fiddler on the Roof — a gorgeous, universal story of family, community, tradition and progress.
Over the past 50 years, Fiddler has been embraced throughout the world; meaning different things to different people at different times — forever adapting, forever relevant.
Based on the stories of Tevye the dairyman by Sholem Aleichem (a pseudonym for Sholem Rabinovitz that literally means “Peace be with you” and, conversationally, “How do you do”), Fiddler on the Roof was a labor of love by Joseph Stein, Sheldon Harnick, Jerry Bock and Jerome Robbins. It opened on Broadway in 1964 and would go on to run for eight years and garner nine Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Since then, it has been turned into a film; had multiple Broadway revivals; and been performed countless times across America and around the globe. Wherever it goes, Fiddler belongs to that community. It is their show. It is their story.
Tevye and his wife Golde live a traditional life in the shtetl of Anatevka in prerevolutionary Russia. One by one, their five daughters turn that life upside-down as they break with convention by choosing their own husbands rather than using the matchmaker. Meanwhile the village is beset by the tsar’s police forces and, as revolution sweeps the country, Tevye and his family are forced to leave their home.
Fiddler is a story of a father and his daughters — of family, of love, of hope. It is also the story of the ongoing struggle between tradition and progress, and the inevitable realization that the two are inseparable. Progress is a reaction to — perhaps even a rebellion against — tradition. But progress also has a way of leading to new traditions.
As Alisa Solomon writes in Wonder of Wonders: A Cultural History of Fiddler on the Roof, “Fiddler, like no other musical before or since, has seeped into the culture...it looks backward and forward, favors both community and individual needs, honors the particular and the universal, struggles between stasis and change, bewails and celebrates.”
So whether you're seeing Fiddler for the first time — or the 50th — thank you for making Arena Stage part of your tradition.
(Photo: The company of Fiddler on the Roof at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater.)