Documentary about the enduring appeal of the musical Fiddler On The Roof speaks to the current political moment
FIDDLER: A MIRACLE OF MIRACLES (Max Lewkowicz). 92 minutes. Opens Friday (August 23). See listing. Rating: NNNN
With its tale of an optimistic milkman grappling with the slow erosion of his faith, his community and even his identity as his five daughters push back against his cultural expectations, Fiddler On The Roof was one of the more thematically complex Broadway smashes of the 60s – and, perhaps more important, an unapologetically Jewish production in a sea of more white-bread offerings.
Max Lewkowicz’s documentary Fiddler: A Miracle Of Miracles tackles the show’s 55-year legacy, and it’s a theatre kid’s paradise – a celebration of an American perennial that offers something richer and more meaningful than a few backstage stories and testimonials from famous fans.
But don’t worry, it has those, too. Lewkowicz draws from an all-star assortment of celebrity guests – including Stephen Sondheim, Austin Pendleton, Jessica Hecht and Lin-Manuel Miranda, who famously staged one of the numbers at his wedding – to explain the show’s lasting appeal, and he makes that case with footage from multiple productions, including Norman Jewison’s 1971 feature film with Chaim Topol as Tevye, the 2013 Stratford run with Scott Wentworth and the 2017 Chichester Festival run with Omid Djalili.
And just as the show does, the doc finds the very Jewish anxiety beneath all the joyful singing and dancing, demonstrating precisely why a generation raised in the shadow of the Holocaust embraced the musical like a long-lost relative from the old country.
But the show’s appeal went well beyond that. Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick and Joseph Stein found something elemental in their shtetl setting, with its nested family groups and hermetic culture Anatevka could be any small town, or any community of outsiders there’s a reason the guy who wrote In The Heights counts Fiddler as one of his touchstones. And the core theme of a people trying to keep their culture alive in the face of persecution certainly speaks to the current political moment as well as it did half a century ago. Maybe even more so.
So if you didn’t get the chance to see this joyful celebration of an ebullient musical when it played the Toronto Jewish Film Festival earlier this year – and if you felt even the slightest tug at your heartstrings when you saw the title – make an effort to catch up with it.
It’s even more of a pleasure with a crowd.