Tra­di­tion!: The High­ly Improb­a­ble, Ulti­mate­ly Tri­umphant Broad­way-to-Hol­ly­wood Sto­ry of Fid­dler on the Roof, the World’s Most Beloved Musical

  • Review
By – August 29, 2014

The book recounts the his­to­ry of what has become a clas­sic in Amer­i­can musi­cal the­atre: Fid­dler on the Roof.” Begin­ning with lyri­cist Shel­don Harnick’s idea to use Sholem Ale­ichem mate­r­i­al as the basis for a musi­cal pro­duc­tion, the book details four years of cre­ative birth pangs pri­or to the show’s open­ing on Broadway.

Author Bar­bara Isen­berg traces the his­to­ry of Fid­dler” from the orig­i­nal Broad­way pro­duc­tion through numer­ous road com­pa­ny tours, the shoot­ing of the film, mul­ti­ple revivals, a vir­tu­al explo­sion of inter­na­tion­al pro­duc­tions, and even col­lege and com­mu­ni­ty the­atre per­for­mances. Isen­berg gives a detailed and excel­lent descrip­tion of the cre­ative col­lab­o­ra­tion between the pro­duc­er, writ­ing team, direc­tor, and design­ers before any actors were cast and rehearsals begun. Isen­berg care­ful­ly doc­u­ments the cast­ing process, giv­ing us lists of actors who were con­sid­ered for var­i­ous roles and dis­cussing the think­ing that ulti­mate­ly deter­mined which actors would play the parts,

The book is filled with inter­est­ing, amus­ing in-per­for­mance and back­stage anec­dotes. While Isen­berg acknowl­edges and lauds Zero Mostel’s unques­tion­able genius as an actor and impro­vi­sa­tion­al­ist, she does not mince words in describ­ing the frus­tra­tions and dif­fi­cul­ties that pro­duc­ers, direc­tors, actors, and musi­cians had in work­ing with him. Isen­berg also dis­cuss­es, in some detail„ the work of oth­er actors — includ­ing Luther Adler, Theodore Bikel, Paul Lip­son, and Topol — who have played Tevye in the fifty years since the show opened.

This book is a great and fun read. It is a delight­ful skip down mem­o­ry lane for any­one who has ever seen, appeared in, or worked on a pro­duc­tion of Fid­dler.” It is also an excel­lent text­book for the­atre stu­dents. This is one of the most thor­ough and real­is­tic accounts I have ever read of the some­times heart­break­ing agony of cre­at­ing theatre.

Relat­ed Content:

Read Bar­bara Isen­berg’s Posts for the Vis­it­ing Scribe

Rem­i­nisc­ing with Bel Kauf­man about Sholem Aleichem

The Com­ings and Goings of Songs in Fid­dler on the Roof”

Bar­bara Colton is an actor, edu­ca­tor and served four terms as Nation­al First Vice Pres­i­dent of Actors’ Equi­ty Asso­ci­a­tion. She is a vet­er­an of numer­ous pro­duc­tions of Fid­dler on the Roof per­form­ing with Zero Mostel,Theodore Bikel, and Paul Lip­son among oth­ers. She is cur­rent­ly enrolled in The Grad­u­ate School at the Jew­ish The­o­log­i­cal Seminary.

Discussion Questions