I played Motel the Tailor in our 5th grade a cappella version of Fiddler On The Roof. We were so young, we really didn’t understand the gravity of this dark story about religious traditions and ethnic cleansing, choosing instead to smile our way through the final song in which a population of Russian Jews have been turned into refugees. I mean, what business did this story have being a musical? To us, Anatevka had a pretty melody and you could almost dance to it. My acting style consisted of lifting my right arm up and down while singing Miracle Of Miracles. We were 10 year olds putting on an adult-themed musical. What did we know? Still, this show has always had a special place in my heart, so when I heard about Fiddler: A Miracle Of Miracles, a documentary by Max Lewkowicz, I had to go, right? Of course, right!
Since opening on Broadway in 1964, not a day has gone by where the musical has not been staged somewhere in the world. This documentary, which features a treasure trove of archival footage, including The Tempations singing If I Were A Rich Man, explores its far-reaching appeal despite initial terrible reviews. There really wasn’t a lot of drama to report, so instead, Lewkowicz focuses instead on what Fiddler has meant to the people involved in its many productions. Sure, it’s sycophantic, but it’s also generous in its exploration of how people of all cultures have found a universal connection with this show.
From its earliest inception, where we see its creators trying out some eventually discarded lyrics, to its legendary Broadway run and Oscar winning 1971 film, Fiddler On The Roof has always appealed to the Jewish population. Surprisingly, however, when we see productions in Japan and Thailand or in the African American community, it’s relatable to all. It’s so wonderfully touching to hear one African American actor geek out over the show and how much she loves theater. I also loved how one scholar compares the ostracizing of the daughter Chava, who marries outside her faith, to that of a gay kid kicked out of their family home.
The filmmaker reached out to so many people involved, giving what is ultimately a documentary for fans a more expansive overview of how art affects people. Norman Jewison, who directed the feature, hilariously recounts how everyone assumed he was Jewish because of his name, but he’s not. Topol, who starred in the film, still gets choked up remembering filming certain scenes. The most moving segments, however, show us unknown actors in various countries connecting with the material. I found it disarming how relevant the story is to our current global immigration and refugee crises.
Fiddler ends up a sweet keepsake for people who love the musical, nothing more nothing less. But then again, I’m extremely biased. To this day, I still have a wind-up figurine on my nightstand which plays Sunrise/Sunset (see below). Yeah, it’s a serious situation. To paraphrase a famous Jewish quote, “You don’t have to have adored the musical to enjoy Fiddler: A Miracle Of Miracles, but it wouldn’t hurt!”
GAY SCALE: For each review, I’ll rate the film on my 50 SHADES OF GAY SCALE to let you know how far it tips in our favor. Fiddler: A Miracle Of Miracles gets a 25 out of 50. It gets major points for connecting its story to the queer experience. Not every documentary about a Broadway show has done that….ok…who am I kidding?…most of them do in some way!
By Glenn Gaylord
Fiddler: A Miracle Of Miracles is currently in limited release in the US.