ABOUT THE MUSICAL
The opening number of a musical often defines the work that follows. Think
of “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” (Oklahoma), “May We Entertain You”
(Gypsy), “Willkornrnen” (Cabaret), and “Why Can’t the English” (My Fair
Lady). The same holds true for Fiddler on the Roof “Tradition.” This is
what Fiddler is about.
As Tevye explains, there is a tradition for everything – for eating, for
sleeping, for dressing (covered heads, prayer shawls). “Everyone knows
who he is and what God expects him to do.” In the course of the song, we
are introduced to Tevye, his family, and all the townspeople. To the Jews in
the small shtetl (village) of Anatevka, life is as precarious as being a fiddler
on the roof. What makes life endurable, what gives the Jews of Anatevka
balance, what is their strength – is tradition.
Although Fiddler concentrates on Tevye and his daughters – the original title
of the show – at its heart is the community – the papas, the mamas, the sons,
the daughters. Some of the best songs in Fiddler are communal numbers
such as “Tradition”, “To Life”, and “Sunrise, Sunset”. Fiddler traces the
breakdown of Orthodox Jewish tradition, symbolized most importantly by
the fact that three of Tevye’s daughters marry against Orthodox Jewish
custom, one even marrying outside her faith. But other traditions are broken.
Men dance with women, Golde even dancing with Tevye.
Anatevka, of course, does not exist in a vacuum. This is Russia in 1905, a
time of pogroms. An edict is proclaimed, and all must leave Anatevka,
which in turn will be destroyed. Although Anatevka “is just a place”, to its
Jews, this “little town of mine” is a “dear little village”. As the villagers
leave at different times and in opposite directions, we see the break-up of the
community. All that is left is the fiddler. On to a new life in America. On to
Richard Gidez for SCCT