Fiddler on the Roof is a musical based on Yiddish author Sholom Aleichem’s book of short stories, entitled Tevye and His Daughters and Other Tales. The musical was originally called Tevye, but the title was changed to Fiddler on the Roof, inspired by Marc Chagall’s painting The Fiddler. Throughout, the play employs the metaphor of the joyous fiddler delicately balancing atop a treacherous roof.
When Stein, Harnick, and Bock began collaborating on this musical, it was important that the fullness of the characters rather than their cultural or historical significance be central to the storytelling. Joseph Stein once clarified, “These were stories about characters who just happened to be Jewish.” When Jerome Robbins was casting the original production, he kept searching for a special “ordinary” quality amongst his cast -- people that you could truly believe were poor villagers, not flashy Broadway stars. For more detailed history of how Fiddler on the Roof came to be, read The Making of a Musical: Fiddler on the Roof by Richard Altman and Mervyn Kaufman and Wonder of Wonders: A Cultural History of Fiddler on the Roof by Alisa Solomon.
The original Broadway production of Fiddler on the Roof was directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins and starred Zero Mostel as Tevye the milkman. Fiddler on the Roof held the record for longest-running Broadway musical for almost ten years; it was the first show in musical theatre history to surpass 3000 performances.
To date, there have been four Broadway revivals of Fiddler on the Roof, with the most recent 2015 revival having closed on December 31, 2016. All have been based in some way on the direction and choreography of the original production, directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins. Robbins himself directed the 1976 revival starring Zero Mostel. There were subsequent revivals in 1981, 1990, and 2004. In 2004, the production starring Alfred Molina -- and later Harvey Fierstein -- as Tevye and Rosie O’Donnell as Golde and featuring a young Lea Michele as Sprintze won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical.
For more insight into the work of Sholom Aleichem, it would be helpful to watch the documentary “Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness” by Joseph Dorman and to read The Worlds of Sholem Aleichem: The Remarkable Life and Afterlife of the Man Who Created Tevye by Jeremy Dauber. Here is a beginning article about Jewish life in the shtetl -- read the bibliography at the bottom of the article for a list of more helpful resources: