Sheldon Harnick and Original Cast Members of Fiddler on the Roof Recall
the Tony-winning Musical on Stage 17’s Fan Fare Web Series
By: Ellis Nassour
Attention, theater lovers and all Fiddler fans! Fan Fare, a roundtable series from Stage17 [http://stage17.tv/], is currently honoring Tony winners Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick, and Joseph Stein’s beloved worldwide, classic, 1964Tony-winning musical Fiddler on the Roof’s 50th anniversary with a four-part episode [each running approximately 10 to 11 minutes]. The web series, shot among the gallery of theater artist caricatures at Sardi’s, celebrates historic musicals by reuniting as many members of the original cast and creative team to share recollections. Access Fan Fare at http://stage17.tv/series/fan-fare.
For the Fiddler salute, SiriusXM Radio host Julie James interviews lyricist Sheldon Harnick, soon to celebrate 91 years young, the only surviving member of the creative team about the legend and lore of how the musical came about, and original company members Joanna Merlin and Austin Pendleton, who played Tzeitel and Motel and their lengthy audition process.
Stage17 president and executive producer Ondine Landa Abramson says, "This is truly musical theatre history gold straight from the source. Sheldon tells how the Sholom Aleichem story of Tevye and his Daughters was chosen for musicalization, how he and Jerry Bock worked with Zero Mostel and the esteemed director and choreographer Jerome Robbins, and the difficult gestation of a new musical from rehearsals to opening night."
Harnick and cast members recount the trials and tribulations of the first out-of-town tryout and bad review [including rumors Robbins would be fired], and about the life the show in the last 50 years.
The lyricist recalls, as if it were yesterday, that actually his interest in Aleichem was piqued when a friend sent him another book, Wandering Star, about a Yiddish theatrical troupe roaming Eastern Europe. He loved it so much he sent it to Bock.
"We thought if we were going to turn it into a musical," he relates, "the go-to guy was Joe Stein. Joe loved the book but said it was too big, too many characters. He suggested that we see what else we could find by Aleichem."
When Harnick and Bock, with producer Hal Prince, discussed creating the musical, Harnick says, "The big question was ‘What’s this about?’ I forget who said it, but one of us said, ‘It’s about the changing of a way of life, the changing of traditions.’ Robbins’ eyes literally lit up. He said, ‘Now I know how to begin and end the show.’
Merlin and Pendleton reminisce with behind the scenes tales at the Imperial Theatre, where the musical, produced by Hal Prince, opened in September 1964 and went on to play 3, 242 performances in its original run. [In 1972, the musical received a special Tony when it became Broadway’s longest running show.] Zero Mostel, in one of his most memorable portrayals, was dairyman Tevye, who dreamed of escaping Anatevka, a Russian village in 1905, on the eve of the Revolution for and a better life with wife Golde, portrayed by the irrepressible dance legend Maria Karnilova, and their four daughters. Mostel and Karnilova won Tonys.
The cast included Bea Arthur as matchmaker Yente; Julia Migenes, Marilyn Rogers, and Linda Ross as daughters Hodel, Shprintze, and Bielke; Bert Convy as Perchick; and Leonard Frey as the rabbi’s son Mendel. There have been four Broadway revivals [the first also starred Mostel].
Trivia: star of stage and screen Luther Adler later played Tevye, along with cast member Harry Goz and Jerry Jarrett. Later cast members included Adrienne Barbeau as Hodel, Bette Midler as a villager and a later Tzeitel; Peg Murray as a later Golde; and Pia Zadora as daughter Bielke.
In 1960, Harnick and Bock with book writer Jerome Weidman won the Pulitzer Prize in Drama for Fiorello! Harnick and Bock won three Tonys [the 1960 win was a tie with Rodgers and Hammerstein and The Sound of Music]. Other shows were The Body Beautiful, Tenderloin, Baker Street, The Rothschilds, The Apple Tree, She Loves Me, and Rex.
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