Program Notes for “Fiddler on the Roof”

A beloved work of musical theater, Fiddler on the Roof is more relevant and vital than ever. Once again, Fiddler shows us how art is timeless, powerful and necessary in society.

After nearly eight years and 3,300 performances since its 1964 opening, Fiddler became at its time the longest-running show on Broadway, winning nine Tony Awards including best musical. Over the ensuing decades, its numerous revivals – from the Great White Way to London’s West End – have been honored with even more nominations and awards.

Fiddler’s powerful themes of tradition, repression, prejudice and diaspora continue to evoke common ground for audiences — wherever they are and from wherever they came. During this time of rampant anti-Semitism, celebrating and honoring Jewish culture is not only cause for jubilation, it’s essential. Fiddler gave Ovations the opportunity to once again partner with the Jewish Community Alliance of Southern Maine. Last week more than 50 people gathered at “the J”, as it is affectionately known, for the talk “’Laden With Happiness and Tears’ – Fiddler on the Roof in Historical Context”. Scholar Anna Wrobel provided historical background both broadly (1860s-1910s industrialization, migration, globalization of Eastern Europe) and more specifically, including quotes about life in the shetls from the autobiography of Sholom Aleichem, who wrote the “Tevye the Milkman” stories on which Fiddler is based.

The discussion was lively as participants in the audience traced their direct lineage to the very same villages and retold the journeys their ancestors took to settle in Maine—coming at first as “strangers in a strange, new place” and then finding home and community.

No doubt, today’s performance will leave you humming “If I Were A Rich Man.” We hope it also leaves you with a deepened or newfound appreciation for Jewish history, traditions and its peoples as only live performance can.