[111] Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick – Fiddler On The Roof

22 May

A perfect blend of beautiful melodies and clever lyrics.  It is no surprise to learn  that Fiddler . . . was at one time the longest running Broadway Musical, or that it has been revived four times to date.


Despite a story set at the turn of the (19th) century, the tension it explores between tradition and progress was as universally relevant in the 1960s as it still is today.  Children rail against parental limits now as they ever did, and from sufficient distance it is possible to see that both sides have valid worries and wants, concerns and complaints.

And the accessibility of the topics, the recognition of the issues facing the characters doesn’t end with the generational divide.  Which young person didn’t daydream about who they would fall in love with (“Matchmaker”)?  Which parent hasn’t marvelled at the speed with which their child grows (“Sunrise, Sunset”)?  And of course who hasn’t dreamed of being independently wealthy (“If I Were A Rich Man”)?

An aside.  In researching this recording, I ran across the fun factoid that in 2011 Sheldon Harmon adapted the lyrics to “Sunrise, Sunset” so as to be appropriate for same-sex weddings.  Universal human appeal.

But perhaps the most powerful moment of the show comes quietly towards the end of the second act with  “Do You Love Me?”, as touching and tender and true a depiction of love as any ever written.   Don’t know the song?  Go listen to it right now.  Know it well?  Go listen again anyway . . .

The performances in this original cast recording are iconic and accomplished throughout, led by Zero Mostel as a larger than life Tevye, and including such well known (and unexpected) names as Austin Pendelton, Burt Convey and Bea Arthur.  They all capture just the right balance between humor and melancholy, truth and caricature.

It sometimes seems that much of the musical world has covered or parodied Fiddler . . ., from Bright Eyes to Gwen Stefani, and even Cannonball Adderley (whose album of selections from the show are a revelation!).  The reason for this is clear – Bock and Harnick struck a nerve, tapped into a vein of ideas that affect all of us, and they did it with humor and grace.

And ludicrously catch tunes.

Next Week:  Dock Boggs – His Folkway Years 1963-68

Owned before blogging? No. (10 of 111 = 9%)
Heard before blogging? Yes. (17 of 111 = 15%)
Recommend? Yes. (92 of 111 = 83%)

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