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 fictional 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 instead chose Chaim Topol, the star of the London production. note The movie was released in 1971.
As a stage musical, Fiddler on the Roof was an international success, with multiple productions breaking records in Europe, South America, Africa, and Australia. It was a particularly big hit in Israel (for obvious reasons), and is the longest running musical ever produced in Japan (for... less obvious reasons?). It remains a popular choice for high schools and community theater to this day, as well as multiple revivals on and off Broadway.
Fidler Afn Dakh, an adaptation of the musical by Shraga Friedman in Yiddish, the language of the original stories, was first produced in Israel in 1966. The first professional American production of this version opened off Broadway in 2019.
See also Tevya, a 1939 non-musical adaptation of the same source material.
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 (one of whom was never actually named), 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.
- Adaptation Name Change: Anatevka was called Boyberik in the original stories.
- Adorkable: Motel, complete with nerdy glasses and social awkwardness to spare.
- All Issues Are Political Issues: Perchik says this when he is trying to propose to Hodel.
- All Jews Are Ashkenazi: Justified, given that it takes place within the Pale of Settlement, the heartland of Ashkenazi culture.
- All Musicals Are Adaptations: Adapted from Arnold Perl's play Tevye and his Daughters, which was adapted from the Sholem Aleichem's original collection of short stories entitled Tevye the Dairyman.
- Alternate Character Interpretation: In-universe, Socialist-leaning Perchick gives the biblical story of Jacob the unconventional Aesop, "You must never trust an employer!" Hodel is skeptical.
- Anti-Villain: The constable, while slightly demeaning toward Jews, doesn't despise them, and has a lot of respect for Tevye. His attacks on them are orders he follows from anti-semitic authorities, and he knows if he doesn't do it, the authorities would hire someone who would.
- Appeal to Tradition: There's a whole song about it!
- Arranged Marriage: The story takes place in an early 20th century Slavic Jewish community where Old Traditions (Arranged Marriage) were rapidly clashing with New Ideas (marrying for love), discusses this as a tradition; the original books suggested that it was a good idea, while the musical adaptation was more neutral on the subject. Each of Tevye's teenage daughters ultimately ended up with the man she wanted, but each suffered the consequences: Tzeitel lives in abject poverty with Motel, rather than the relative comfort she would have had with Lazar Wolf; Hodel winds up in Siberia and Chava is disowned. The practice was to keep marriages within the Jewish community, but the musical points out that this is why the system fails.
- Tevye and Golde's duet "Do You Love Me?" addresses the belief that an arranged marriage can ripen into love, while "Matchmaker", sung by the daughters, addresses both the pros and cons of arranged marriages.
- Armor-Piercing Question: When Tevye angrily rants about how he already promised Tzeitel to Lazar Wolf, she tearfully hits him back with:
- Tzeitel: Is that...more important than I am, Papa?
- As the Good Book Says...: Probably Trope Namer. Tevye is always saying this to everyone, including the audience.
- And he tries to tell God "As the Good Book says ..." before realizing that God wrote the Good Book.
- Subverted in that he makes up most of the quotes or gets them wrong.Tevye: Yes, well, somewhere, it says something about a chicken.
- Motel's song "Miracle of Miracles" is also filled with biblical allusions.
- Awesome Mc Coolname: Lazar Wolf, though entirely by accident — in the 1900s, it was just another Jewish name. It also sounds cooler in the film than in real life. In Russian language, the first a is pronounced as a long ah. In Yiddish, however, it is pronounced like "laser" (and often transcribed as Leyzer).
- Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: Tevye and Golde, who after nearly 30 years of bickering, child bearing, and drudgery, realize that they really do love each other.
- 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. (Although that was a fake dream, so who knows.)
- In a rare heartwarming example, Motel finally stands up to Tevye when he calls him a poor tailor.
- Betrayal by Offspring: Tevye considers Chava to have done this for wanting to marry a non-Jew.
- Big Beautiful Woman: Golde is not this, but Tevye wishes she could be. In the song "If I Were A Rich Man", he sings about "My wife, my Golde, looking like a rich man's wife with a proper double chin." This may be more about the life of abundance and leisure he wishes to give her than about his personal preferences.
- Big "NO!": In some productions, as Tevye disowns Chava, he shouts a Big "NO!" as she begs for his acceptance.
- Bilingual Bonus: In the Yiddish production, some Russian is thrown in for good measure, especially for the Constable and Fyedka, to remind us that this play takes place in Russia.
- Bittersweet Ending: The Jews of Anatevka may have been forced to leave Russia entirely, but at least they got out alive, and in time to avoid World War I and the Russian Civil War. Apart from those eight years of warfare wrecking the economy and killing a tenth of a population of the entire Empire, the latter was known for its even more violent pogroms against Russian Jews committed by the the Reds and Whites (the Greens opposed them, but were too weak to stop them happening). On the other hand, those of them who went to Poland not only would've had the frontlines move through the country thrice (once in the World War, twice in the Polish-Soviet War), but later, well... As for Tevye and his family, his three daughters are married (not in the way he expected, though), and the fiddler follows them away, as does the traditions it symbolizes.note
- Book-Ends: The 2016 Broadway revival began with Danny Burstein (the actor playing Tevye) dressed in modern clothing waiting at the Anatevka train station, and he reads the opening lines from supposedly a guidebook, then changes into Tevye. At the end, Burstein reappears in his modern dress joining the exiled Jews and pulling Tevye's cart.
- Both Sides Have a Point: Provides that page's quote.Avram: (gestures at Perchik and Mordcha) He's right, and he's right? They can't both be right.
Tevye: You know... you are also right.
- The show in general runs on this trope. Tevye is caught in the clash between the traditional world and the modern world. He tries his best to be fair and see both sides of the situation, with many inner monologues about "on the one hand [...] but on the other hand". In the quote above, he gets ridiculed for not simply picking a side when two guys who both have valid ideas stick to parroting slogans at each other instead of making more nuanced arguments for their causes.
- 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 moment's 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.
- Childhood Marriage Promise/Childhood Friend Romance: Motel and Tzeitel.
- 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/My God, You Are Serious:Tevye: Thank you, your honor. You are a good man. If I may say so, it's too bad you're not a Jew.
Constable: [laughs] That's what I like about you, Tevye. You're always joking.
(Awkward silence ensues as the Constable realizes Tevye was not joking.)
- Conspicuous Consumption: Tevye fantasizes about how extravagantly he would live if he were a rich man.
- Ultimately subverted in that the thing he wants the most, the greatest luxury of all...is to study the holy books with the learned men every day.
- 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?
- Creepy Shadowed Undereyes: Played for Laughs in Tevye's "dream" sequence.
- Dance Off: A variant happens in the bar twice when Tevye and Lazar are celebrating. At first when the Russians show up, everything is tense and the Jewish patrons are worried until then the Russians start singing and dancing. Then one Russian accidentally bumps into Tevye and nearly trips over, and the whole place goes silent and it looks like a fight may break out. The Russian offers Tevye a hand-shake and then starts dancing and Tevye soon declares the Russian dance style is pretty fun, and then everyone joins back in dancing together and men of each group are dancing in the style of the other. It's not quite a Dance Off but close, and has about the same effect.
- Dark Reprise: "Tradition" after Tevye disowns Chava. No words, but the chorus dancing in the back... dancing like they're trapped and can never escape...
- Deadpan Snarker: Both Tevye and Golde have their moments. The Rabbi has a moment early in the musical when a congregant asks him if he has a special prayer for the Tsar.
- Dead Guy Junior: Tevye's oldest daughter Tzeitel is named for her great-grandma, dead thirty years.
- Dirty Old Man: Averted. Lazar Wolf is in his 50s and wants to marry a woman less than half his age, but it's a case of Values Dissonance and he's not shown to be lecherous or creepy. He's portrayed as a decent human being who is lonely after the death of his wife, grows fond of a woman who visits his butcher shop often, and genuinely cares about her, with realistic In-Universe reactions from other characters (e.g. Tzeitel is little squicky about the age but mostly just is annoyed that it's not Model she'd be marrying. Tevye feels uneasy about having a son-in-law who is own age, but isn't flat out against the idea, and it's more important to him that Lazar Wolf is going to treat her well and take care of her).
- Dream Ballet: Accompanies the song "Chavaleh".
- Egocentrically Religious: Tevye complains to God a fair bit, notably making the case in song that it would be a very good thing if he were a rich man. On another occasion he starts to argue with God by pontificating "As the Good Book Says..." before realizing that God already knows perfectly well what the Good Book says. Ultimately he's self-aware enough to avoid actually being this trope, but he's pushing it a bit.
- Evolving Music: A meta-example. With the popularity of "Sunrise, Sunset" as a wedding song, lyricist Sheldon Harnick produced two lightly rewritten versions with the words adjusted to fit a ceremony for a same-sex couple ("When did they get to be so handsome?"). Of course, the version in the show itself is unchanged.
- 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, her childhood friend.
- Forgotten Theme Tune Lyrics: Besides appearing as the melody for the daughters' and papas' verse, the fiddler's theme was released in sheet music form as the title song, "Fiddler on the Roof" with different lyrics:Away above my head, I see the strangest sightA fiddler on the roof who's up there every nightHe fiddles when it rains, he fiddles when it snowsI've never seen him rest, yet on and on he goesWhat does it mean, this fiddler on the roofWho fiddles every night and fiddles every noon?Why should he pick so curious a placeTo play his little fiddler's tune?[...]A fiddler on the roof, a most unlikely sightIt might not mean a thing, but then again it might!
- Friendly Enemy: The constable and the village Russians, until the tsar's decrees force them to become Punch Clock Villains.
- Geeky Turn-On: Motel, the town tailor. Also Chava and Fyedka, who meet at the bookseller.
- Gossip Evolution: "The Rumour"."Golde's been arrested, and Hodel's gone to Kiev! Motel studies dancing, and Tevye's acting strange. Shprintze has the measeles, and Bielke has the mumps."
"And that's what comes from men and women dancing!"
- Grief Song: "Chavaleh".
May all your futures be pleasant ones,
- Although, if you actually listen to the lyrics, the whole play is a sort of grief-song. Even "To Life", one of the boisterous upbeat songs, has the lyrics:
Not like our present ones...
It takes a wedding to make us say,
"Let's live another day..."
- Hail to the Thief: During the opening song "Tradition", a villager asks the rabbi if there is a blessing for the tsar. "Of course! 'May God bless and keep the tsar... far away from us!'"
- Hangover Sensitivity: Tevye has a bad case the morning after the drinking song, and is very put out when Golde keeps clapping her hands for joy.
- Happily Arranged Marriage: Tevye and Golde conclude that they do love each other even though their marriage was arranged and they had to learn to love each other. Tevye finds it difficult to allow his daughters to forgo an arranged marriage because it ultimately worked for him.
- Homosocial Heterosexuality: The traditional Arranged Marriage custom is portrayed as an emotional and social affair between the groom and the father, the bride hardly being relevant to the process. And thus the plot is setting up for a massive backfire.
- Human Ladder: Not part of the story itself, but this technique is often used to portray the abnormally tall ghost of Fruma-Sarah. (Especially in modern high school productions, where technical equipment budgets tend to be limited.)
- Humble Goal: Ironically, the true motivation behind "If I Were a Rich Man." After describing all the nice things he and his wife could have and how important he'd seem to the rest of the village, Tevye quietly notes that being rich would free him to study Torah, pray in the synagogue, and discus the holy books with learned men... things that a working man's life leaves him little time for.Tevye: And that would be the sweetest thing of all.
- Hypocritical Humor: A good deal of Yente's dialogue. Also invoked by Fyedke, who lists a few of his (somewhat boastful) good points, then tacks on, "and very modest."
- If I Were a Rich Man: The Trope Namer, which also toys with it. The only real thing Tevye shows humbleness towards is that he would be able to work less so he could spend more time in Synagogue praying, which points up why he is willing to have his daughters tutored.Perchik: Money is the world's curse!
Tevye: May God smite me with it. And may I never recover!
- I Have No Daughter: Tevye to Chava when she declares her intent to marry a non-Jew.
- Inconvenient Itch: One character invokes this to another:"May he get an itch he cannot scratch!"
- 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!)
- Informed Judaism: Obviously Averted, to the point that mentioning "Fiddler on the Roof" is often used as shorthand to inform us that a character is Jewish.
- 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.
- Jews Love to Argue:
- 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!
- In the film, Tevye starts a huge argument between two groups arguing about whether Neighbor 1 sold Neighbor 2 a 6-year-old or 12-year-old horse. The whole village seems to get in on it.
- In the Yiddish translation, the argument is changed to whether it was a tsig (a he-goat) or a bok (a she-goat).
- Tevye and some of the other men of the village when Perchik is first introduced.
- Tevye is actually very pleased when Motel snaps and yells in his face, as it proves he has become man enough to argue back.
- 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.
- Jewish Mother: Golde fits the type to the letter, constantly nagging her husband, fretting about the housework, and trying to get each of her daughters married off to a Nice Jewish Boy.
- Just Following Orders: The Constable's justification for allowing "a little unofficial demonstration" of anti-semitism. He also faces removal from his post if he doesn't carry out the pogrom. He knows someone would do it, and he would rather it be him instead of someone far worse.
- The Constable even says at one point in the movie, "An order is an order!" which is a direct quote of the infamous Nuremberg defense. Considering the movie came out only about twenty-five years after the Nuremberg Trials, there's no way that was an accidental reference.
- Kissing Cousins: Distant cousins in this case. Motel is implied to be related to Tzeitel through her great grandmother's uncle.
- Large Ham: Fruma-Sarah is specifically written to be played this way. Tevye also has his moments.
- Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Of course, "Tradition" has Tevye talking directly to the audience. Otherwise, his conversations with God come off as this.
- "Leaving the Nest" Song: When the inhabitants forced to leave their village, they sing the song "Anatevka," which is about leaving home and becoming:''A stranger in a strange new place,Searching for an old familiar faceFrom Anatevka...''
- Literary Allusion Title: Zig-Zagged. The story comes from a literary source, but the title is an allusion to a famous painting by artist Marc Chagall, which shows a surreal violinist suspended above the housetops of a Russian shtetl. On the other hand, the painting's title is just "The Fiddler", no mention of a roof. (The producers considered getting Chagall to do the production design for the musical, but he wasn't interested.)
- Living Prop: It is incredibly easy to forget that Tevye has two little daughters as well as his three teenage ones.
- Long Last Look: The cast sings "Anatevka" as they prepare to leave their village.
- Lyrical Dissonance: "To Life," a riotous showstopping dance number all about how life sucks most of the time, except when we can find an excuse to celebrate and get drunk. Plus, the tone is quite at odds with how it's celebrating a contrived, loveless marriage arrangement just after Tzeitel has agreed to marry her true love.
- Marriage Before Romance: The marriage of Tevye and Golde was arranged and they have been together for years, having already raised their eldest 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.
- Marry for Love: Tevye's daughters want to do this.
- Money Song: "If I Were A Rich Man"
- Mood Whiplash: Frequently, there are moments of celebration, family drama, oppression and comedy. A brutal example occurs during Motel and Tzeitel's wedding: the joyous celebration is violently broken up by the Constable and his men at the beginning of a pogrom.
- Plus, the Constable telling everyone they have to leave comes directly after we've been shown the ugliest side of their religion with Tevye disowning his daughter for marrying outside the faith.
- Movie Bonus Song
- Originally, in the film, in place of "Now I Have Everything", Perchik was going to sing "Any Day Now", but it ended up being cut. It was restored in the Yiddish production as a song Perchik sings to Bielke and Shprintze.
- In the 2004 Broadway revival, Bock (who was still alive at the time) and Harnick wrote a new song for Yente entitled "Topsy-Turvy" to replace "The Rumor/I Just Heard". This has not been heard in subsequent productions, and as a result, "The Rumor" is reinstated.
- Never Bareheaded: The characters are all Orthodox Jews, so this trope is naturally in play.
- Nice Jewish Boy: Motel. Though in perhaps a bit of an aversion, Golde would prefer her daughter to marry a rich older man like Lazar Wolf.
- Oh, Crap!: Tevye gets one when he realises he has to tell his wife about their daughter's change in marriage plans.Tevye: Golde! What am I going to tell Golde?!
- Old Man Marrying a Child: It's a plot point that it's not uncommon for this to happen due to Arranged Marriage, as mocked in the song "Matchmaker, Matchmaker." Tzeitel gets betrothed to a man who is actually older than her own father but fortunately for her, Tevye changes his mind and lets her marry for love.
- One Dialogue, Two Conversations: Are Tevye and Lazar talking about a milk cow, or about Tzeitel?
- Opening Chorus: "Traditiooooooon!"
- Opinion-Changing Dream: Invoked by Tevye to persuade his wife to let Tzeitel marry Motel.
- The Outside World: Russians are mostly the outside world to the Jews. Even if when Lazar Wolf buys for everyone to celebrate his wedding Russians are perfectly happy to get joyfully smashed alongside Jews.
- Parental Marriage Veto: Tevye refuses to let his daughter marry outside the faith. When she insists, he disowns her.
- Playing Gertrude: In the film, 36-year-old Topol to 21-year-old Rosalind Harris (who would later play Golde to his Tevye onstage).
- 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 '60s, 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.
- Proper Lady: Tzeitel. It's assumed Hodel would have become this had she not fallen in love with Perchik. She originally had a crush on the rabbi's son.
- Punch-Clock Villain: The Constable, and if "To Life" is any hint, possibly the rest of the Russian villagers. Except for the fact that there is a very obviously implied tension when the Russian Villagers join the dancing. It recedes, jumps up when Tevye bumps into one, and recedes again, but is always there.
- Punctuated! For! Emphasis!:
- "Now I have piece of advice for you: This. Is still. My land. Get. Off. My. Land."
- "I! WANT! TO SEE! MOTEL'S! NEW! MACHINE! NOW!"
- "UNHEARD OF! ABSURD!"
- Rage Against the Heavens: A light version in "If I Were A Rich Man," where Tevye asks God if it would really destroy his entire plan for the world to give Tevye some money.
- A more poignant one later when Tzeitel's wedding reception is interrupted by the Pogrom: Tevye can be seen silently asking God "Why? Why? WHY?"
- Reality Ensues: In "Matchmaker, Matchmaker", Hodel and Chava discuss their expectations for the men they want Yente to pair them with, with Hodel eying the rabbi's son. Tzeitel throws cold water on their fantasies, stating that, coming from a poor family with no dowries, they would be more likely to be matched with dirty old men or abusive drunks. Indeed, Yente's match for Tzeitel is a widower her father's age.
- 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. 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 in the stories, Tevye has seven daughters.
- Russian Guy Suffers Most: Or, if you're already in Russia, Jewish Guy does.
- Secret Relationship: Chava and Fyedka keep their relationship from Tevye until it's too late.
- Slap-Slap-Kiss: Hodel and Perchik bicker, and then get married.
- Sliding Scale of Adaptation Modification: The film adaptation is a Type 4 (Near Identical Adaptation); it cuts out a few musical numbers, but is otherwise identical to the original musical.
- Small Reference Pools: In Hollywood, mentioning this play is a good way to establish that a character is a Jewish person even if the character hasn't actually mentioned having Jewish heritage.
- Smite Me, O Mighty Smiter: Tevye does this in response to someone else's comment.Perchik: Money is the curse of the world.
Tevye: [shouting to the Heavens] May God Smite me with it! AND MAY I NEVER RECOVER!
- Spared by the Adaptation: Golde, Motel and Shprintze all die in Sholem Aleichem's original stories (Shprintze drowned herself after her intended marriage was blocked by the groom's uncle; Golde died of an unspecified illness and Motel of tuberculosis). Here they survive to the end.
- 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.
- In "To Life," the chorus gives one to Tevye and Lazar Wolf: "We know that when good fortune favors two such men, it stands to reason we deserve it too."
- 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.
- Talking in Bed: Sets the stage for Tevye telling Golde his "dream" about Fruma-Sarah.
- That Russian Squat Dance: Shows up at a couple of points in "To Life", which features it among a wide array of Russian dance moves.
- 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 Tzeitel 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." [...] "Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as... as 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 choose 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 .
- Two-Act Structure: The first act lasts from the start to the end of Tzeitel and Motel's wedding, with the second picking up months later.
- Vodka Drunkenski: In "To Life", Tevye and Lazar Wolf join their Russian compatriots in getting royally smashed to celebrate Tzeitel's engagement.
- Wedding Smashers: The Cossacks interrupt Motel and Tzeitel's wedding with "a little unofficial demonstration."
- Yiddish as a Second Language: A bit downplayed, especially considering that historically all the characters (except the Russians) would have been speaking Yiddish as a first language. The original script has exactly two Yiddish phrases: "Mazel tov" ("Congratulations") and "L'Chaim" (famously explained in the song, "To life", a toast). More recently, though, an off-Broadway production of the show translated entirely into Yiddish has been staged in New York to positive reviews.