A joyous and informative tribute to the creation of the internationally famous musical “Fiddler on the Roof,” this is a film that can be appreciated on so many levels. Directed by Max Lewkowicz, who wrote the screenplay with Valerie Thomas, “Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles” richly provides an account of the fabled show’s history, with a treasure trove of clips and a load of interviews by notables with pithy and often revealing comments.
It is a pleasure experiencing this film on an emotional level as well as for its reflection of the show’s artistry and universality. Clips from performances in different languages demonstrate how the creators tapped into the subject matter of Jewish life described in the stories by Sholem Aleichem, paralleled in other cultures involving the downtrodden and personal issues in family life.
Ironically, in its initial tryout run there was a negative critical reaction. One thing that the new documentary does is trace the tinkering and the way the insertion of the opening number ‘Tradition” gave a whole new spirit to the evolving production.
Key are incorporated interviews with composer Jerry Bock lyricist Sheldon Harnick, book writer Joseph Stein and producer Hal Prince. Original cast member Austin Pendleton, who played Motel, has his reflections, and we also hear from Joel Grey, who has directed the superb Yiddish version currently playing. Chaim Topol, who starred as Tevye in the film version produced and directed by Norman Jewison, is also interviewed, and we are reminded of how stalwart the acting by the Israeli star was in comparison with more Eastern European nuances of other performances.
Of course, we get to see clips of Zero Mostel’s renowned performance, and we hear from Mostel’s son Josh. Another lauded performance as Tevya was by Herschel Bernardi, and the late actor’s son Michael is also among those interviewed. There are a host of others whose comments are valued, including Lin-Manuel Miranda, Harvey Fierstein, Danny Burstein, Jessica Hecht, Ted Chapin, Bartlett Sher and Ted Sperling.
The film constitutes an important historical record of the road “Fiddler” has traveled, and there is emphasis on its status as one of the most beloved musicals of all time. It provides fresh reason to laud the Bock-Harnick-Stein triumvirate, and also the work of director and choreographer Jerome Robbins, whose being a tough taskmaster was an irritant. (Attention is also paid to the friction between Mostel and Robbins, as a result of Robbins having named names in the red-scare period.)
There is a precious coda to the film in which we see Sheldon Harnick playing the violin. I never knew that was among his many talents.
I heartily recommend this documentary as among the year’s outstanding films, which can not only provide you with extensive enjoyment and insight but also should stand as a vital record in the trajectory of musical theater. A Roadside Attractions release. Reviewed August 23, 2019.