Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles explores the roots and legacy behind the fan favorite musical turned movie, Fiddler on the Roof.
The documentary is the first in-depth look at the musical. It isn’t the first time that somebody has explored the musical’s legacy. One of the film’s subject, Alisa Solomon, wrote Wonder of Wonders: A Cultural History of Fiddler on the Roof. The book was first published October 2013, nearly a year before the 50th anniversary. I’ll just add right here that the book is a perfect complement to the film.
The musical was a rarity for its day. There’s not a single American character in the musical about a small Jewish shtetl in Czarist Russia. Joseph Stein, Sheldon Harnick, and Jerry Bock combined together in adapting Sholem Aleichem’s Tevye the milkman stories for the stage. We do get some interesting tidbits along the way. Funny enough, “Tradition” wasn’t even included in the script before Jerry Robbins was brought on to direct the show. It was actually his suggestion but even at that, he wouldn’t stage the directions for several weeks.
One of the beautiful things about the film is that Harnick is still working. In fact, he’s playing the opening to “Tradition” as the film opens. Stick around and you can see him performing at the very end of the credits, too. To the film’s credit, there isn’t a narrator. The story is told solely through interviews. And I suppose the brilliant music, too.
To understand Fiddler on the Roof means to understand what life was like for writer Sholem Aleichem. It also means to understand what was going in in 1964 America. And yes, even the musical’s popularity in this era. How do the themes of 1905 relate to people in 2019?
We’re talking about a musical that has so much adoration. When the run came to an end, it held a record of longest running Broadway musical. Moreover, the musical is performed at least once a day dating back to its Broadway premiere. I honestly don’t know if any musical will come close.
Speaking of the film, director Norman Jewison is not Jewish. I know, I know. This is a surprise for many people. He even brought it up upon being hired to direct the film. While Zero Mostel originated the role of Tevye, Norman was keen on hiring a first-generation American. Interestingly enough, the role went to Israeli actor Chaim Topol, who performed as Tevye on stage in both Israel and London. Topol shares memories of having tooth pain while shooting “If I Were A Rich Man.” There’s a bit of screaming in the song so one cannot help but empathize with his pain.
One such fan with adoration for the show is none other than Hamilton creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda. Miranda’s credits include being cast in a sixth grade play. He even remembers all the choreography from when he was cast as one of the sons for “Tradition.” There’s a point in the film in which he has a conversation with lyricist Sheldon Harnick. Moreover, we even get a glimpse of his wedding reception where he sings with his father-in-law.
“There’s not a song in the Broadway canon more universal than ‘If I Were A Rich Man,'” Miranda says.
If you’re a fan of musicals especially Fiddler, Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles is going to be a must-watch.
DIRECTOR: Max Lewkowicz
SCREENWRITERS: Max Lewkowicz & Valerie Thomas
FEATURING: Sheldon Harnick, Hal Prince, Austin Pendleton, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Joel Grey, Chaim Topol, Harvey Fierstein, Fran Lebowitz, Calvin Trillin, Nathan Englander