By Siiri Gilness
“Fiddler on the Roof” first opened on Broadway in 1964. The musical, based on a series of Yiddish short stories, was a smashing success, winning nine Tony® awards. It was followed by a film adaption in 1971 that resulted in eight Academy Award nominations. The story is set in Imperial Russia against a backdrop of Jewish society and culture. However, “Fiddler on the Roof” is also about something much more universal than the geography or religion of its characters: it is the tale of a man’s struggle to move beyond the time-honored ways of the past in order to adapt to a changing world.
Tevye, the main character of “Fiddler,” is a Jewish milkman living in Russia in the early 20th century. The story opens with Tevye facing a difficult choice. His eldest daughter, Tzeitel, is being set up for an arranged marriage in accordance with tradition, yet Tzeitel has fallen in love with someone else. As Tzeitel begs her father to let her marry the man she loves, Tevye is faced with his own internal struggle: whether to hold on to long-standing tradition by forcing his daughter into a marriage she doesn’t want, or to allow her to make her own choices in a culture where free will among women is unheard of. Ultimately overtaken by the desire to see his daughter happy, Tevye stands against tradition for the first time in his life and allows Tzeitel to marry for love.
As the story progresses, Tevye is faced with other difficult decisions as he begins to accept and acknowledge the rapidly changing world around him. Though he repeatedly expounds on the need to uphold “Tradition!” through both song and soliloquy, Tevye becomes aware that some traditions aren’t meant to remain unchanged forever. While examining his relationships with his children, his wife, his community, and his God, Tevye both laments and celebrates the changes in his life through memorable songs such as the whimsical “If I Were a Rich Man,” the celebratory “To Life,” and the hauntingly bittersweet “Sunrise, Sunset.” “Fiddler on the Roof” also includes numerous musical numbers by other members of the cast, with the famous “Bottle Dance” being a particular showstopper.
“Fiddler on the Roof” is being performed in Rolla this month by the Fine Linen Theatre company. Performances will be held at the Cedar Street Playhouse from April 12 through April 28.
Art Matters is a weekly column sponsored by Leach Theatre, a division of Student Affairs, on the campus of Missouri S&T, and produced by Emily Brickler, Managing Director of the theatre and ten-year veteran teacher with a Masters of Art in Teaching from Webster University.