The play opens in Anatevka, Russia in 1905, and Tevye the dairyman gives us an introduction to the people in his town and how they survive. Tradition, he says, provides a delicate balance, like a fiddler on the roof (“Tradition”). Each mother, father, son and daughter has their own defined place in the community. Meanwhile, at Tevye’s home, everyone is busy getting ready for the Jewish sabbath. Tevye’s five daughters are busy about the house, managed by his commanding wife, Golde. Yente, the matchmaker arrives, with news for Golde about a match for one of her daughters. Just then, Motel comes to the door, asking for Tevye’s daughter Tzeitel, but Tzeitel tells him they need to talk later. Yente tells Golde that she has found a match for Tzeitel: the widowed butcher, Lazar Wolf. She encourage Golde to send Tevye to talk to Lazar after the Sabbath. As the two older women talk, daughters Hodel and Chava fantasize about the matchmaker finding them a perfect match. The eldest, Tzeitel, is much less enthusiastic, pointing out to her sisters how little control they have over their romantic destinies, especially because they are poor. (“Matchmaker”)

Tevye arrives at home, pulling his own cart (as his horse is lame). Tevye fantasizes about what it would be like to be wealthy (“If I Were a Rich Man”) as he pulls his cart, delivering milk. The Innkeeper complains that his sabbath order is late, and Tevye explains about his horse. Just then, Avram, the town’s bookseller, bust into the conversation with bad news about pogroms and expulsions of Jews in other towns. As others join into the conversation, a stranger -- Perchik -- scolds the men for merely talking about the world’s troubles when they should be doing something about it. The men dismiss Perchik as a radical, trying to stir up even more trouble, but Tevye invites him home to Sabbath dinner. He strikes up a deal, giving Perchik room and board in exchange for tutoring Tevye’s two youngest daughters,

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