Fifty years ago today, Fiddler on the Roof opened on Broadway and was an instant success with audiences and also won 9 Tony Awards including the big kahuna Best Musical. It would become the longest running musical in Broadway history until it was surpassed by that crop of 80s mega-musicals from Britain. The musical has been performed countless times since in stage productions all over the world and four revivals on Broadway (76, 81, 90, 04).
By 1971 there was a movie adaptation that was nominated for 8 Oscars including Best Picture and I don't believe we've ever discussed it. That ain't right. I've been thinking about 60s and 70s musicals a lot recently due to that book "Roadshow!" and while the movie studios were definitely overinvested in the genre after the gargantuan back-to-back mega hits that were Mary Poppins and Sound of Music occassionally a hit would crop up within the string of flops that killed the genre thereafter. It helped that Norman Jewison was helming. As "Roadshow!" recounts:
I've never seen a distributor, an exhibitor... or the head of a studio ever improve on a film," said Jewison, "Only creative people can improve on a film." Cinematographer Oswald Morris said, "Norman was under hideous pressure from United Artists to keep costs down. To give him his due, he withstood all this; he had a vision for Fiddler, which he wasn't prepared to compromise, no matter what the front office said, and I greatly admire him for this." Jewison immersed himself in classic Jewish culture. I think he knows more about Judaism today than I do," said Topol. Fiddler lyricist Sheldon Harnick noted that Jewison, "isn't Jewish, but he did so much research in preparation for the film that he became quite knowledgeable about things Jewish. As a result, either Topol, or someone else suggested that he should be made an honorary Jew and renamed Norman Christianson!"
When signed, Jewison was hot off the double Oscar success of The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! (1966) and In the Heat of the Night (1967) with his best work still far in the future; That's Moonstruck (1987) -- you know this to be true!
Critical reactions to Fiddler varied and some people objected to its relentless downplaying (within the marketing) of the Judaism of the story, but it raked in big bucks. Or as "Roadshow!" puts it:
Roughly half of "The Sound of Music"'s earnings, but half of "Music" still qualifies as a blockbuster.
My last visit with this property was not the movie but the stage show's gorgeous 2004 revival starring Alfred Molina (the set design and lighting were just exquisite stage triumphs but it weirdly won no Tonys despite plentiful nominations) and I was stunned to realize or, rather, remember that virtually every song is a classic. It's one of those musicals.
What's your favorite number in that show and do you like its film version?