50 Facts About Fiddler on the Musical’s 50th Anniversary

first_img 47. When Harvey Fierstein told producer Susan Bristow he’d like to star in the 2004 revival of Fiddler, she responded, “Who are you going to play, Golde?” 7. Harold Prince originally passed on producing Fiddler on the Roof. Bock and Harnick sweetened the deal by offering Prince their musical She Loves Me, and wonder of wonders, Prince agreed to take on Fiddler. 39. There have been five Broadway productions of Fiddler on the Roof to date. The original 1964 production ran for 3,242 performances; the 1976 production ran for 167 performances; the 1981 production ran for 53 performances; the 1990 production ran for 241 performances, and the 2004 production ran for 781 performances. 13. There were many changes made to the script as the production got rolling. For example, Tevye’s first number, “What a Life,” which was sung to his horse, was replaced with “If I Were a Rich Man.” 25. Merlin went on to be a casting director for Sondheim musicals. She worked with producer Prince on Company, A Little Night Music, Follies and Sweeney Todd. 5. The title of the musical and Boris Aronson’s set design for the original production are based Marc Chagall’s painting “The Fiddler.” 49. Harnick wrote new lyrics to “Sunrise, Sunset” for same-sex weddings in 2011. The male version includes these lines, “When did they get to be so handsome?/When did they grow to be so tall?/Wasn’t it yesterday when they were small?” 10. Lee Grant, Nancy Walker and Mercedes McCambridge were all considered for Golde. 37. Of the film’s major reviews, eight were favorable, six were negative and two were mixed, according to the American Film Institute. The movie cost $9 million to make and grossed $50 million in its initial release. 11. The first person cast in the show was Austin Pendleton. Pendleton, who played Motel the tailor, would later go on to be a notable director and actor. 33. Three villages in Yugoslavia were transformed into Anatevka for the film. 18. Joanna Merlin, who originated the role of Tzeitel, was cast in the show on November 22, 1963. She came out of the theater to learn that President John F. Kennedy had been shot. 6. Stephen Sondheim urged director/choreographer Jerome Robbins to get involved with Fiddler after hearing the score at a private party at Stein’s home in New Rochelle. Good thing Jerry listened to Steve! Check back all week long for more Fiddler features! 12. Famed comic actor Gene Wilder also auditioned for Motel.  Though he didn’t get the part, he would go on to star alongside Mostel in Mel Brooks’ 1968 film The Producers. 1. It’s widely known that Fiddler on the Roof is based on Sholem Aleichem’s stories, but did you know that the real name of this “Jewish Mark Twain” was Solomon Naumovich Rabinovich? His pen name Sholem Aleichem literally means “peace be with you.” 16. Bea Arthur auditioned multiple times for the role of Yente, but Robbins thought she was too contemporary for the role. She eventually got the part, but many of her lines were cut. In her 2002 Broadway show, Just Between Friends, Arthur says Robbins was only director who ever made her cry, and called him “a really dreadful human being.” 23. No one mentioned Zero Mostel in their Tony acceptance speeches. When Mostel went up to accept his award, he said, “Since no one else has thanked me, I will thank me.” 22. Fiddler was nominated for 10 Tony Awards and won nine (all but Best Set Design). 44. John C. Reilly played a Russian commissar in a local Chicago production. He stood backstage and sang “Sunrise, Sunset” every night because he was upset he didn’t have a singing role. 47. While sitting in her seat before the curtain went up, Jerome Robbins’ sister Sonia Cullinen suffered a heart attack on opening night of the 2004 revival of Fidder. She was taken to Bellvue Hospital, where she was pronounced dead. 36. Richard Dreyfuss, Rob Reiner and John Ritter auditioned for the role of Motel, but were passed over for Leonard Frey, who had played a small role (Mendel, the rabbi’s son) in the Broadway production. He was nominated for an Oscar for his performance. 14. Fiddler on the Roof held the record for the longest-running show on Broadway for 10 years, when it was succeeded by Grease. Wonder of wonders, it’s the 50th anniversary of Fiddler on the Roof! It’s been five whole decades since the celebrated musical first premiered on Broadway on September 22, 1964. To celebrate, Broadway.com is doing a daily bottle dance will offer up a week of Fiddler features. With some help from the new book Tradition!: The Highly Improbable, Ultimately Triumphant Broadway-to-Hollywood Story of Fiddler on the Roof, we’ve got 50 Fiddler facts about the hit musical by Joseph Stein, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick. So grab your yarmulke and study up—the show is aiming to return to Broadway in the 2015-16 season! 34. Jewison tried to get Anne Bancroft to play Golde in the film but was unsuccessful. Other possible Goldes included Colleen Dewhurst, Zoe Caldwell, Dorothy Loudon, Marian Seldes and Beverly Sills. It finally came down to Norma Crane and Lee Grant—Crane got the role. 40. In 2007, Time magazine ranked Fiddler on the Roof the 7th most frequently produced musical in American high schools. 21. Paul Lipson, who was Mostel’s understudy and later played Tevye in his own right, clocked over 2,000 performances in the role. His first performance in the part was during the pre-Broadway Washington, D.C. engagement.  27. The iconic violin solo in the film was played by renowned violinist Isaac Stern. 2. Composer Bock and lyricist Harnick originally wanted to write a musical based on Aleichem’s Wandering Stars, about a traveling Yiddish theater company. “It would have to had 40 minor characters on stage and it was just too big,” Harnick said in an interview. They settled on the Tevye the Dairyman stories instead. 8. Speaking of passing up a terrific opportunity, Stein showed Fiddler to Zero Mostel while he was still starring in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Mostel turned it down, but later had a change of heart when he heard a more complete version of the show. 35. Robert De Niro read for the role of Perchik—the role in the film eventually went to Paul Michael Glaser, who later became Starsky in the hit cop TV show Starsky & Hutch. 29. Norman Jewison was then asked to direct the film—he agreed, but he was worried the producers assumed he was Jewish. “The whole world thinks I’m the Jewish son of a Jew—Jewison,” he said. 15. Maria Karnilova, who played Golde in the original production, famously played stripper Tessie Tura in the original cast of Gypsy. View Comments 24.  Bette Midler joined the Broadway cast of  Fiddler as Rivka, one of the villagers, and understudied the role of Tzeitel. When Merlin left the show, Midler took over and played the role for four years. 9. Walter Matthau, Eli Wallach, Rod Steiger, Tom Bosley (who played the title role in the Bock-Harnick hit Fiorello!), Jack Gilford, Danny Thomas and Alan King were all considered for the role of Tevye in the original Broadway production. 45. The Book of Mormon and Frozen star Josh Gad played Tevye in his high school production. He calls it his “least celebrated” performance. 31. Frank Sinatra’s agent called Jewison to try to get his client an audition, but he didn’t envision the crooner as a Jewish milkman. 48. Sacha Baron Cohen played Tevye when he was studying at Cambridge. For his Sweeney Todd movie audition, he sang “If I Were a Rich Man.” 20. According to Pendelton, Robbins finally staged “Tradition” in the middle of the final week before they were set to leave for their Detroit tryout. It only took him an hour and a half to stage it. 26. Fiddler on the Roof premiered in Tokyo on September 6, 1967—it has since been mounted in Japan more than 1,300 times. 41. Composer Jerry Bock died November 3, 2010—10 days after the death of Fiddler book writer Joseph Stein. 42. Translated into Spanish, Un Violinista sobre el Tejado premiered in Panama’s National Theatre of Panama in October 2012, featuring Aaron Zebede as Tevye. 43. Grammy winner Josh Groban played Tevye in high school—if you missed his performance, don’t worry, it’s all available on YouTube. 19. Bert Convy, who originated the role of the revolutionary Perchik, went on to be a famous host of TV game shows, including Win, Lose or Draw and Super Password. 32. Israeli actor Chaim Topol was playing Tevye in Tel Aviv when he was asked to audition for the London production. He barely spoke any English, and learned to speak the language by studying the script. 4. The first draft of the show was called The Old Country—other working titles included Tevye, Not So Long Ago, Not So Far Away and Where Poppa Came From. 17. When Fiddler on the Roof premiered in Poland in 1985, the show’s authors donated their royalties to preserving the country’s Jewish monuments. 30. Jewison thought Mostel was “too big” to star in the film, and went in search of another actor to play Tevye. Danny Kaye was an early choice, but “his wife turned us down saying he was too young to have marriage-age daughters,” Harnick said. 38. Fiddler was nominated for eight Academy Awards in 1972, winning three: Best Cinematography, Best Sound and Best Scoring: Adaptation and Original Song Score. The French Connection beat it for Best Picture. 3. Pass the apples and honey! Bock and Harnick began writing Fiddler on the Roof on September 11, 1961, which was Rosh Hashanah (a.k.a. the Jewish New Year). 50. The final script of Fiddler on the Roof is dedicated “to our Fathers.” Prince said later that the show was “clearly conceived” by Stein, Bock, and Harnick “as a kind of valentine to their grandparents.” 46. Beam me up, Hodel! In 1971, Star Trek star Leonard Nimoy played Tevye for eight weeks in Ohio, Massachusetts and upstate New York in a local touring production. 28. United Artists was contractually obligated to ask Robbins if he wanted to direct the film version. The director, who was wary after the conflicts that arose during the filming of West Side Story, turned the offer down.last_img