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Fiddler on the Roof: New and Improved?

February 24, 2011 | by Mark Miller

Sholem Alechim’s short story has been revamped for 2011. And you will love it. Or not.

JEWLARIOUS SATIRE - Good news! Or horrible news! Depending on how you see this – Fiddler on the Roof is being completely updated for modern times. Its song lyrics in particular are being rewritten to reflect the issues and culture of our modern era. While you’re hyperventilating, a little background…

The musical, with music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, and book by Joseph Stein, is perhaps the most beloved of Jewish musicals. Based on Tevye the Milkman and Other Tales, by Sholem Aleichem, the story, set in Tsarist Russia in 1905, centers on Tevye, the father of five daughters, and his attempts to maintain his family and Jewish religious traditions while outside influences encroach upon their lives. He must cope with both the strong-willed actions of his three older daughters—each one's choice of husband moves further away from the customs of her faith—and with the edict of the Tsar that evicts the Jews from their village. And you thought you had problems trying to find a decent bagel.

The original Broadway production of the show, which opened in 1964, was the first run of a musical in history to surpass the 3,000 performance mark. Fiddler held the record for the longest-running Broadway musical for almost 10 years until Grease surpassed its run. It remains Broadway's 14th longest-running show in history. The production was extraordinarily profitable and highly acclaimed. It was nominated for ten Tony Awards, winning nine, including Best Musical, score, book, direction and choreography. It spawned four Broadway revivals, a successful 1971 film adaptation, and the show has enjoyed enduring international popularity. It is also a very popular choice for school and community productions. And the best part of a high school production of Fiddler, of course, is seeing a 16 year old bearded Tevye, whose voice has not yet changed. Now, that’s entertainment!

Taking into account the If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It theory – why mess with a good thing? “That’s probably the question I get asked most often,” says Sherri Rosenzweig, producer of the upcoming “Fiddler 2011” production. “Look, when it opened in 1964, there were three network channels on TV, no Internet, no HBO, no Showtime, no iPods or iPads, no videogames. There was a lot less competition for our entertainment dollars and attention. These days, for any entertainment production, it’s a highly competitive struggle to survive. So, if we can infuse “Fiddler on the Roof” with the vital issues and popular culture that people care about today, plus make it faster and funnier, with more special effects and interactive media tie-ins, we greatly increase our chances for success.”

Rosenzweig graciously allowed Jewlarious a pre-opening peek at some of the changes in the new edition of “Fiddler.”

For example, in “Fiddler 1964,” Tevye, a poor Jewish milkman with five daughters, explains the customs of the Jews in the Russian shtetl of Anatevka in 1905, where their lives are as precarious as the perch of a fiddler on a roof. Tevye, his wife Golde, and their children explain their situation in the song, “Tradition.” That song, in “Fiddler 2011,” is now titled:

Who, day and night, must live on unemployment,
Scrounge for jobs and groceries, downsize their lifestyle?
And who has to fight the creditors each day
To keep us from the poorhouse, oy!
We all do! We all do! Recession!
We all do! We all do! Recession!

Facebooker, Facebooker, Friend me a friend

Next, Yente, the village matchmaker, arrives to tell Golde that Lazar Wolf, the wealthy butcher, a widower older than Tevye, wants to wed Tzeitel, the eldest daughter. The next two daughters, Hodel and Chava, are excited about Yente's visit, but Tzeitel expresses her lack of enthusiasm by singing the song, "Matchmaker, Matchmaker,” which in “Fiddler 2011” is titled:

Facebooker, Facebooker
Facebooker, Facebooker, Friend me a friend
My time online seems not to end.
If Lazar Wolfe is so hot for a wife,
Let JDate reduce his strife

Tevye meets Lazar at Mordcha's inn, assuming mistakenly that Lazar wants to buy his cow. Once the misunderstanding is cleared up, Tevye agrees to let Lazar marry Tzeitel – with a rich butcher, his daughter will never want for anything. All join in the celebration of Lazar's good fortune; even the Russian youths at the inn join in the celebration and show off their dancing skills to the tune of "To Life" – now updated to deal with the prospect of divorce:

My Wife!
God would like us to be married
Even though our lawyers want for us to part
How much more can we be married
When I’ve disappointed you right from the start?
My wife, my wife, is leaving.
She’s leaving, she’s leaving, my wife.
I vow to go bring her back
We’ll move to Hackensack
Start all over – my wife!

Later that day, Tevye is delivering milk, pulling the cart himself, as his horse is lame. He asks God who it would hurt “If I Were a Rich Man.” That has now been slightly updated to:

If I Were George Clooney
Dear God, you made many, many homely people.
I realize, of course, that it’s no shame to be homely.
But it’s no great honor, either!
So, what would have been so terrible if you’d given me looks to die for?
If I were George Clooney,
Ya ha deedle deedle bubba bubba deedle deedle dum.
All day long I’d date supermodels,
If I were a movie star.
I wouldn’t have to sell milk.
Ya ha deedle deedle bubba bubba deedle deedle dum.
If I were a biddy biddy hot.

Later in the story, the wedding day of Tzeitel and Motel arrives, and all the Jews join the ceremony and the celebration. But in the new edition, “Sunrise, Sunset” has been revised to deal with the ravages of Alzheimer’s Disease:

My Mind Forgets
Is this the street on which my house is?
Is this my wallet in my hand?
I don’t remember growing senile,
You’re my man?
When did I marry this old woman?
When did we find time to have kids?
Wasn’t it yesterday
We were young Yids?
My mind forgets
My mind forgets
Swiftly flow our meds
One prescription following another
Oy how they’re messing up our heads.

Rosenzweig stresses that the show is still in progress and that she has not yet heard back from the two stars contacted with offers to play Tevye and Golde – Brad Pitt and Lady Gaga

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