Fiddler on the Roof turns 50 Sept. 22, an event which is being celebrated by at least two chronicles of the legendary Jerry Bock/Sheldon Harnick/Joseph Stein/Jerome Robbins/Hal Prince musical. (The 50th of Fiddler's close competitor, the Jerry Herman/Michael Stewart/Gower Champion/David Merrick Hello, Dolly!, passed in January. Once Dolly seemed a marginally stronger hit through the initial decade, but by 1980 had lost its edge.)
Alisa Solomon's "Miracle of Miracles" — subtitled "A Cultural History of Fiddler on the Roof" — indeed looked at the show not only historically but culturally. This allowed the author to investigate areas rarely found in a Broadway chronicle, putting things in a different context than usual. Now we have Barbara Isenberg's "Tradition!: The Highly Improbable, Ultimately Triumphant Broadway-to-Hollywood Story of Fiddler on the Roof, the World's Most Beloved Musical" [St. Martin's Press]. That subtitle offers a lot to prospective readers, even though it is unwieldy and not quite accurate; the movie was filmed in Yugoslavia and London, far from Hollywood's shores.
Isenberg, a journalist, has given us a fascinating fly-on-the-wall thriller about the creation of a big Broadway musical, yes; but that book was "Making It Big," about the fatally overhyped 1996 enterprise that sunk in the quicksand of Shubert Alley. "Making It Big" is tense, fascinating and alive; it delivers what Isenberg's Fiddler book promises. Readers looking forward to Fiddler being put under the Big microscope are bound to be disappointed. Isenberg has duly interviewed several surviving Fiddler veterans — Harnick and Prince are still very much with us — and countered their testimony with much previously-published information from other sources. But there is little new, here, and little surprising; what's more, there is relatively little about the original Broadway production itself.
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