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To Life: 50 Years of "Fiddler on the Roof": The Tradition Lives On

Zero Mostel in a 1964 publicity photo as Tevye
Wikimedia Commons

Sunrise, sunset, sunrise, sunset, swiftly flow the days...

Minutes after I walked into the small, albeit crowded Three Lives & Company, a legendary Greenwich Village bookstore that’s one of my favorites, a man entered the small store. He wouldn’t have stood out amongst all of us except for one fact. He spoke with a booming theatrical voice befitting of a Broadway musical stage. It was hard not to eavesdrop and overhear the man who walked into a store-full of quiet book browsers. The man immediately started to speak loudly when he saw the recognizable face of the store owner and her new assistant.

“Welcome back,” said the shop owner to her customer. “Where have you been”, she questioned. The customer’s verbose, non-stop answer duly noted his long-term absence from the bookstore.

Wonder of wonder, miracle of miracles...

“Just returned from my fifth production of “Fiddler on the Roof.” Eleven weeks in Portland.” “Eleven weeks,” he said again for added emphasis. “Standing ovations every performance! Great audiences! Not just ordinary ovations, we really wowed ‘em in Portland. The standing ovations were amazing.”

Well, I said to myself, not to be rude, but this standing room only conversation is too good not to listen in. I continued to eavesdrop.

The Portland Fiddler as I later nicknamed this bookstore client, was being introduced to the new store assistant by the owner when the Fiddler requested that a certain book be ordered for him. The store’s new assistant asked the Portland Fiddler his name. “Randy Galler, that’s G-A-L-L-E-R” he bellowed in a voice that made me think he was about to sing a chorus of “To Life, To Life, L’Chaim... Was applause and a standing ovation from me along with the rest of the bookstore audience in his immediate future?

Sunrise, Sunset, Sunrise, Sunset, Swiftly flow the days...

Turns out Randy (stage name changed for privacy) and his company cast did indeed wow ‘em in Portland. Randy, in his ensemble roll of Avrum, performed alongside the characters of Tevye, Golde, Tzeitel, Yente, Motel et al for over two months at the Portland, Oregon Center Stage Theatre. The local audiences loved it.

Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match, find me a find, catch me a catch...

The reviews I read set the stage for the enthusiastic audiences to sit back and take in all the resilience of hope and tradition that this particular production of “Fiddler on the Roof” offered. One writer noted that he was prejudiced in favor of Fiddler, because the score, the book, the story, in fact ever production was a wow every time he saw it through the years. I couldn’t agree more. Thinking back to all the productions I’ve seen, the show consistently ranks at or near the top. From the many Fiddler productions and revivals I’ve enjoyed on and off-Broadway to the surprisingly robust show-stopping Japanese language performance I treasured when I was in Tokyo, Fiddler on the Roof is a classic love-fest that makes audiences stand up and acknowledge not only the actors but the struggles and wonderful traditions that take center stage every time the curtain goes up.

If I were a rich man....

No doubt Fiddler is a favorite of yours as well. Which is not surprising since it is one of the most oft-produced shows in the theatrical world. The award-winning film version also deserves ovations. On stage or screen, the addictive Fiddler score coupled with the classic Sholom Aleichem story of Teyve and his daughters is a warm, reflective saga of Jewish hope and tradition that will always be part of our show business pride.

To life, to life, L’Chaim...

By the way, this coming September 22nd marks the 50th Anniversary of the show’s Broadway opening night. What an auspicious event to celebrate: five decades of life. Wherever in the world it performs, long live “Fiddler on the Roof.”

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