"A fiddler on the roof... Sounds crazy, no? But here in our little village of Anatevka, you might say every one of us is a fiddler on the roof, trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck."
Fiddler on the Roof is a popular musical from the 1960s, based on a set of stories by Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem (pen name for Solomon Rabinovich).Set in the shtetl of Anatevka, in the Pale of Settlement of the Russian Empire, just before the Revolution of 1905, it tells the story of Tevye, a milkman with five daughters: Tzeitel, Hodel, Chava, Schprintze, and Bielke. The plot centers on Tevye and Golde's efforts to find husbands for their daughters, but their daughters break tradition by marrying for love rather than having their marriages arranged by Yente, the town matchmaker.The original Broadway production starred Zero Mostel in the role that would make him famous, but producer-director Norman Jewison refused to cast him in the movie, feeling that his performance was too over the top, and chose Chaim Topol, star of the London production, instead. The movie was released in 1971. Originally, Jerome Robbins, the director-choreographer of the original musical, had shown an interest in directing the film as well, but the production company, Mirisch Pictures, refused to even consider the idea, due to the difficulties they had when Robbins was assigned to co-direct and choreograph West Side Story. (Robbins had spent so much time shooting and re-shooting scenes in his quest for perfection, that by the time he had completed about 60% of the picture, the film had gone $1,000,000 over budget and six months behind schedule. He was summarily fired from the film shoot and producer and co-director Robert Wise completed the film alone.)Fiddler on the Roof remains a popular choice for high schools to this day.
It provides examples of:
Actually Pretty Funny: The rabbi's son cracks up when Tevye jokes that the Jews' constant migrations is "why we never take off our hats."
Adaptation Distillation - in the original books, Tevye had seven daughters, and many aspects of his life (such as his journey from abject poverty to respectable milk farmer, earning him the "Reb Tevye" moniker, and the suicide of one of his daughters) were cut out.
Being Good Sucks: The story starts off with his mule injuring its leg and Tevye's luck just goes downhill from there.
Bait and Switch: The "New Arrival" at Motel and Tzeitel's that everyone is goo-gooing over is...a sewing machine.
And done immediately in reverse when Tzeitel walks in with a newborn baby.
Berserk Button: Do not tell Grandma Tzeitel that her great-granddaughter is marrying Lazar Wolf.
Don't mention it to Fruma Sarah, either.
Also, don't take Fruma Sarah's pearls.
In a rare heartwarming example, Motel finally grows a pair and stands up to Tevye when he calls him a poor tailor.
Black and Grey Morality: While the barbaric cossacks and corrupt officials responsible for the pogroms are unquestionably evil, the musical, and especially the film version, casts a much more skeptical eye on Tevye, the other people of Anatevka and their ways than did the books they were based on, showing that the bigotry and xenophobia that characterized their relations with the gentiles was coming from both sides, and by contrast, that they could also get along if given the chance. This probably has something to do with being made around the time the festival of amorality that is the Arab-Israeli Conflict was going into full swing and many Jews began to question their frequent portrayals as blameless victims.
Brawn Hilda: Fruma Sarah, Lazar Wolf's deceased wife, is sometimes depicted as one of these.
Brick Joke: In the opening, Tevye mentions that one of their traditions is always wearing hats. In the end, Tevye speculates that maybe the reason hats are constantly worn is because historically Jews/Hebrews have been forced out of a number of places at a moments notice.
Category Traitor: Tevye considers Chava to have passed the Moral Event Horizon for wanting to marry a guy who isn't Jewish, effectively telling her I Have No Daughter when she comes asking for his acceptance of her marriage. This is both Truth in Television and Values Dissonance, as the fragility and small numbers of the Jewish faith - especially in the film's setting of pre-revolutionary Russia, where Jewish communities (as seen in the musical) were under constant threat of attack from the Christian majority - means that each marriage is an important part of the preservation of the religion. Marrying out of the faith for even many modern Orthodox Jews would be the ultimate betrayal.
Child Marriage Veto: Tzeitel refuses to marry Lazar when Tevye tells her of the match. Granted, Tevye does relent after realizing how much she doesn't want to marry Lazar; Tzeitel might have gone along with it if he had continued to force the issue.
Compliment Backfire: TWO right after the other. Tevye tells the constable it's a shame he's not a Jew. The constable laughs it off, and tells Tevye he likes his joking. Both of them, however, realize what the other was saying, and look pretty miffed afterward.
Cosmic Plaything: Tevye seems to see himself, and the Jewish people as a whole, as this at times.
Tevye: I know, I know. We are Your chosen people. But, once in a while, can't You choose someone else?
Fail O'Suckyname: Motel. Although, it ended up being a plus for the fake ghost of Grandma Tzeitel, who praised him, signing, "A worthy boy is he, of pious family. They named him after my dear Uncle Mordachai." (Also Perchik.)
First Guy Wins: Subverted, in the film at least; during the opening number "Tradition," we see Lazar Wolf looking at Tzeitel right before panning to Motel.
Incredibly Long Note: Fyedka's "Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh... zaaaa, vaaaaa, sha zdarovia" in "To Life." It is not uncommon for betting to be going on backstage about when the actor will pass out. (Answer: not before he gets his applause, dammit!)
It Will Never Catch On: An inverted example. Motel brags after getting his sewing machine that he'll no longer make any hand-made clothes. (At the time the movie was made and a century later, people are paying big bucks for hand-made clothes.)
"I Want" Song: "Matchmaker, Matchmaker" for the three eldest girls (Tzeitel, Hodel, and Chava); "If I Were A Rich Man" for Tevye
Jewish Complaining: Tevye has many things to complain about, and even uses it to save face in the last act.
Invoked in the opening when Tevye happily informs the viewer that amongst the Jews in the village everyone gets along. Then he casually goes over to a pair bartering over a horse and instigates a loud, angry argument, that appears to involve all of the Jewish characters in the market.
Group 1 at Group 2: HORSE!
Group 2 at Group 1: MULE!
Group 1 at Group 2: HORSE!
Group 2 at Group 1: MULE!
Tevye and some of the other men of the village when Perchik is first introduced
Tevye and Golde. Even at the end, he complains when she tells some people where they are going to live.
Not really. In this case Tevye is covering the fact that Golde has told Chava and her husband where the rest of the family will be going.
Living Prop: It is INCREDIBLY easy to forget that Tevye has two little daughters as well as his three teenage ones.
Marriage Before Romance: The marriage of Tevye and Golde was arranged and they have been together for years, having already raised all their children to adulthood, but it isn't until one of their daughters wants to marry for love that they start thinking about romance with one another. Their duet 'Do You Love Me?' lampshades, describes and plays out the trope.
Pragmatic Adaptation: If the story's main theme is tradition vs. upheaval, the way the musical approaches that theme inverts the approach taken by its source material. Sholem Aleykhem's original stories, written for exclusively Jewish audiences around the turn of the (20th) century, stressed the importance of upholding tradition despite surrounding social change. The musical, which was intended for a more general audience, takes the position that change - both good and bad - is inevitable. (Which was pretty much the theme of The Sixties, if you think about it.)
The Presents Were Never from Santa: Golde changes her mind about Tzeitel marrying Motel instead of Lazar Wolf by Tevye's prophetic dream from her great-grandmother... which Tevye entirely made up. The dream never happened.
Refuge in Audacity: Possibly the only reason why Tevye can make the "dream" about Fruma Sarah into a plausible excuse for marrying Tzeitel off to Motel.
Actually even more clever and devious: Fruma Sarah's objection is the motivation; Grandma Tzeitel's is the excuse
Rule of Three: Three girls, three marriages that undo their father's expectations. They have more girls than that, of course, but only three have plot-important roles; the others are not yet of marriageable age.
And, as mentioned above, in the stories, Tevye has seven daughters.
Stealth Insult: "Is there a proper blessing for the tsar?" "Yes. 'May God bless and keep the tsar... far away from us!'"
Yente comes to one of the fathers telling him she has a match for his son, the shoemaker's daughter. The father protests, since the shoemaker's daughter is almost blind. Yente explains this IS why it is such a perfect match, as a blind girl should have no worries about whether her husband is ugly.
Stout Strength: Tevye is often portrayed as going a bit soft about the belly with middle age. He's also shown hauling his loaded milk cart around after his horse injures its leg.
That Wasn't a Request: When Perchik and Hodel tell Tevye (Hodel's father) of their engagement and he blusters that he won't allow it:
Hodel: You don't understand, Papa.
Tevye: I understand, I understand, because I said yes to Motel and Tzietel you feel you also have the right, but my answer is still no.
Perchik: No, Reb Tevye. You don't understand. We're not asking for your permission.
Title Drop: "You might say every one of us is a fiddler on the roof."
Troubled Sympathetic Bigot: Tevye is constantly struggling with his belief in tradition versus his three daughters' yearning for liberation. He manages to accept the first two of them (who want to chose their own husbands, but within their own ethnic group), but draws the line with the third (who falls in love with a Christian). With this daughter, Tevye is shown to be on the edge of committing Honor-Related Abuse: but he never carries it out, making him a failed patriarch but keeping him from becoming a failed human beingnote He fully disowns her in the original stories, see Values Dissonance on the YMMV page.