‘Fiddler’ at 50

About the Symposium

“Fiddler at 50,” a symposium presented by the Lewis Center for the Arts and the Program in American Studies at Princeton University, examines one of Broadway’s most successful and beloved musicals. Opening on Broadway in 1964, Fiddler on the Roof celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2014. A screening of the hit 1971 film version of the musical will take place at 7 p.m. on Thursday, November 14, followed by a brief discussion. On Friday, November 15, from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., a series of lectures and discussions by scholars, theater artists, and Fiddler lyricist Sheldon Harnick will explore the work as an icon of musical theater and its place in Jewish-American cultural history. All symposium events are free and open to the public.

The symposium is organized by Jill Dolan, professor of theater, the Annan Professor in English and director of the Program in Gender and Sexuality Studies, and Stacy Wolf, professor of theater and director of the Princeton Atelier. It is an outgrowth of two courses this semester: the professors are co-teaching “Jewish Identity and Performance in the U.S.” and Wolf is teaching “Performance and Politics in the 1960s: Hippies and ‘Homos,’ Black Arts and Broadway.” The symposium is funded by the Lapidus Fund in American Jewish Studies in Princeton’s Program in American Studies.

Fiddler on the Roof is still considered one of the greatest classic musicals of the Broadway stage and is performed constantly by school, camp, community, and professional theaters all over the world,” notes Wolf. “Though it takes place in an early 20th-century shtetl, it’s truly an expression of the struggles over gender roles, authority in the family, and social change in the U.S. during the 1960s.”

“Theatre and performance always represent a rich archive of experience and cultural memories,” adds Dolan. “The long history of Fiddler on the Roof has much to tell us about Jewish traditions, feelings about assimilation, and the project of Americanization. For so many American Jews, Fiddler’s songs and stories strike resonant chords, many of which will be recalled and considered in our symposium.”

Fiddler on the Roof, with music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, and book by Joseph Stein, opened on Broadway on September 22, 1964, and ran for a record-setting total of 3,242 performances. The original production was nominated for ten Tony Awards, winning nine, including Best Musical and for score, book, direction, and Jerome Robbins’ choreography. Classic songs from the show include “Sunrise, Sunset,” “Matchmaker,” and “If I Were a Rich Man.” Zero Mostel originated the role of Tevye the milkman and Maria Karnilova the role of his wife, Golde (each of whom won a Tony for their performances), with Bea Arthur as Yente the matchmaker. The musical was made into a film in 1971, winning three Academy Awards. Fiddler on the Roof has received numerous productions including in London’s West End, in four Broadway revivals, at regional theaters, and by hundreds of community theater groups and schools.

Set in Tsarist Russia in 1905, the show is based on Tevye and his Daughters (or Tevye the Dairyman) and other tales by Sholom Aleichem. The story 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 both with the strong-willed actions of his three older daughters — each one’s choice of husband moves further away from the customs of his faith — and with the edict of the Tsar that evicts the Jews from their village. The musical’s title stems from the painting “The Fiddler” by Marc Chagall, one of many paintings he created of Eastern European Jewish life, often including a fiddler as a metaphor for survival, through tradition and joyfulness, in a life of uncertainty and imbalance.

Students in Dolan’s and Wolf’s courses will provide a dramaturgical introduction of the film on November 14 and facilitate a brief discussion following. On November 15, the day will include an interview with Harnick and talks by theater scholars: Jeremy Dauber, author of The World of Sholom Aleichem; Alisa Solomon, author of Wonder of Wonders: A Cultural History of Fiddler on the Roof; and Jenna Weissman Joselit, whose many books include The Wonders of America: Reinventing Jewish Culture, 1880-1950, which received the National Jewish Book Award in History, and A Perfect Fit: Clothes, Character, and the Promise of America. Interviews with actress Joanna Merlin, who originated the role of eldest daughter Tzeitl, and with Broadway director John Doyle will be featured. Doyle is currently teaching in Princeton’s Program in Theater. A reception will cap off the day.


Thursday, November 14, 2013

7 p.m.   Dramaturgical introduction

  • Regina Burgher ’14 and Lindsay Spring ‘16

7:15 p.m.   Screening of film Fiddler on the Roof

10:15 - 10:45 p.m.   Post-show discussion

  • Reena Glaser ’14 and Bits Sola, facilitators

Friday, November 15, 2013

10 a.m.   Welcome

10:05 - 10:15 a.m.   Introduction to Fiddler on the Roof

  • Morgan Young ’15 and Ben Diamond ’16

10:15 - 11 a.m.

  • “Fiddler’s Fortunes”
    Alisa Solomon, Columbia University
  • Q & A moderated by Zach Stecker ‘17 and Will Mantell ‘14

11 - 11:45 a.m.   Interview

  • Joanna Merlin, actor who originated the role of Tzeitl
  • Interview by Lauren Coleman ’14 and Katie Bauman ‘14

11:45 a.m. - 12:15 p.m.

  • “Scenes from an Afterlife: Sholem Aleichem’s Early Legacy”
    Jeremy Dauber, Columbia University
  • Q & A moderated by Jessica Welsh ’14 and Joseph Labatt ’14

12:15 - 1 p.m.   Lunch

Nearby locations include Frist Campus Center, Zorba’s Grill, Cox’s Market, Qdoba, Panera Bread

1 - 1:45 p.m.   Interview

  • John Doyle, director of actor-musician production, Watermill Theatre
  • Interview by Teri Tillman ’16 and Bennett Butler ’14

1:45 - 2:15 p.m.

  • “The Fiddler Rests”
    Jenna Weissman Joselit, The George Washington University
  • Q & A moderated by Nadia Diamond ’17 and Brian Bernard ‘15

2:15 - 3:15 p.m.   Interview

  • Sheldon Harnick, lyricist
  • Interview by Ava Geyer ’15 and Jenna Rodrigues ’14

3:15 - 3:30 p.m.   Wrap-up

Moderated by Abby Williams ’14

3:30 – 4:30 p.m.   Reception



Jeremy Dauber

Jeremy Dauber is the Atran Professor of Yiddish Language, Literature, and Culture at Columbia University, where he also serves as director of its Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies and teaches in the American studies program. He received his undergraduate degree from Harvard and his doctorate from the University of Oxford, which he attended as a Rhodes Scholar. His new book, The Worlds of Sholem Aleichem, a biography of the Yiddish writer who invented Tevye, came out from Random House in October; The Huffington Post called it one of the fall’s hottest biographies. He frequently lectures on topics related to Jewish literature, history, humor, and popular culture at the 92nd Street Y and other venues throughout the United States.

John Doyle

John Doyle is the Class of 1932 Visiting Lecturer with the Rank of Professor in the Program in Theater at the Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton. He has been artistic director of four prestigious regional theaters in the U.K. His credits in the U.S. include productions of Sweeney Todd (Tony Award for Best Director of a Musical), Company (Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical), Mahagonny (Los Angeles Opera, two Grammy Awards), Passion (Classic Stage Company, Drama Desk nominated Best Director of a Musical), Caucasian Chalk Circle (American Conservatory Theatre), and Kiss Me Kate (Stratford Festival Theatre). As well as numerous credits in London’s West End, John has also recently directed at Sydney Opera House, the Metropolitan Opera, Houston Grand Opera, La Fenice in Venice, Williamstown Theatre Festival, Second Stage Theatre, and Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park.

Sheldon Harnick

Lyricist Sheldon Harnick graduated from the Northwestern University School of Music in 1949. He soon moved to New York City, where he met composer Jerry Bock, who became his musical writing partner. Their musical Fiorello! (1959) — with Jerome Weidman, who wrote the book — ran for 795 performances and won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Harnick has won three Tony Awards. In 1960, Fiorello! tied with Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music for Best Musical. In 1965, Bock and Harnick’s Fiddler on the Roof won both Best Musical and Best Composer and Lyricist. Harnick has also won two Grammy Awards, two New York Drama Critics Circle Awards, three gold records and a platinum record for the Broadway and film versions of Fiddler. Harnick has also collaborated with Mary Rodgers, Richard Rodgers, and Joe Raposo.

Jenna Joselit

Jenna Weissman Joselit is the Charles E. Smith Professor of Judaic Studies and professor of history at The George Washington University, where she also directs its Program in Judaic Studies and its brand new M.A. in Jewish cultural arts, the first graduate program of its kind in the country. The author of, among others, The Wonders of America, which received the National Jewish Book Award in History, and of the critically acclaimed A Perfect Fit: Clothes, Character and the Promise of America, Joselit writes a monthly column on American Jewish arts and letters for The Forward, which is just about to enter its fourteenth consecutive year of publication, and blogs at www.fromunderthefigtree.com.

Joanna Merlin

Joanna Merlin is an actor, teacher, and former casting director for Harold Prince, Stephen Sondheim, Bernardo Bertolucci, and James Ivory. She cast the original Broadway productions of Sondheim’s Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, Pacific Overtures, Sweeney Todd, and Merrily We Roll Along, as well as Evita, Candide, and On the Twentieth Century. As an actor, her Broadway credits include Becket opposite Laurence Olivier, and Fiddler on the Roof, in which she created the role of Tzeitel, the eldest daughter. Her films include Sarah’s Key, City of Angels, Class Action, Mystic Pizza, Fame, The Killing Fields and The Ten Commandments. She is a co-founder of the Alliance for Inclusion in the Arts and the author of Auditioning: An Actor-Friendly Guide.

Alisa Solomon

Alisa Solomon is a professor at the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University where she directs the M.A. concentration in arts and culture. A long-time theater critic and journalist, she has written for The New York Times, Daily Beast, howlround.com, www.killingthebuddha.com, American Theater, The Forward and other publications. She was a staff writer at the Village Voice from 1983 to 2004. Her first book, Re-Dressing the Canon: Essays on Theater and Gender, won the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism. Her latest book, Wonder of Wonders: A Cultural History of Fiddler on the Roof, is just out from Metropolitan Books/Holt.