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Connecticut River Valley, New England, United States

Saturday, August 2, 2014

One of the Classic Broadway Musicals and Its Wonderful Screen Adaptation

Tradition!: The Highly Improbable, Ultimately Triumphant Broadway-to-Hollywood Story of Fiddler on the Roof, the World's Most Beloved MusicalTradition!: The Highly Improbable, Ultimately Triumphant Broadway-to-Hollywood Story of Fiddler on the Roof, the World's Most Beloved Musical by Barbara Isenberg
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I entered this Goodreads giveaway it was motivated by the fact I grew up in Manhattan and going to Broadway shows was as natural for me as going to the movies was to kids growing up in areas far less rich with cultural opportunities. Of course I didn't know then that not every kid had Broadway actors in their classes and that they were a couple of Peter's Lost Boys. Not every kid believed that Peter could fly but I knew he could--he flew right over my head in a darkened theatre. And not every kid saw her mother hugged by Una Merkel backstage at Mr Pennypacker, or visited with glamorous Martha Scott or twinkly Burgess Meredith.

And onward through the years, I sat enthralled or stood, in my college poor years, at the back of Broadway theatres having paid $1 for a standing room only ticket. Once, a couple who hated Stop The World, left before intermission and gave my roommate and me third row center orchestra seats for free! It was our sixth time at the show and these people hated it! LOL

But, in June 1963 I graduated college and headed off to Albany and graduate school. So when Fiddler opened I was gone. I had no interest in heading down to see it since Zero Mostel was one of my least favorite actors. I found him overblown and so much the center of attention that the rest of anything he was in was lost --the cast, the story, the sets, the music--everything and I didn't think he was funny. Around 1973 or so some friends, Jewish, wanted to go down to the city to see it. We tried but couldn't get tickets so we went to see Cabaret instead. We loved it and forgot about Fiddler.

When the movie came out, I went to see it and fell head over heels in love with everything about it. Notified I'd won the book, I began to think about the show and wondered why I, a Catholic Irish-German girl from the west side, loved this story of Jewish Russian life so much. And I realized there were several reasons---we Catholics have tons of traditions and I love the ritual of them, the Irish were treated terribly by the Brits at home and weren't very welcomed when they came to this country and boy, oh, boy my Irish-German father who was 40 when I was born wasn't having an easy time of having a 20 year old daughter in the '60's. Mom was doing better but not by much.

And then the book arrived---what a wonderful book! The play is built stone by stone--the "boys" who wrote it--Stein, Bock, Harnick--Jewish all; Jerome Robbins! an incredible choreographer; Harold Prince--a name that at the time was synonymous with Broadway--they are all there.

The casting once the show was a go, the out of town runs in Detroit and Washington DC with all the rewrites, particularly the second act. What an experience. As the book talked about all the songs that were written for the show and discarded I went in search of my vinyl cast album. Couldn't find it so stopped reading and went to Amazon, ordered the CD and downloaded it and sat listening to the whole thing. How I wish I could hear some of the rejects. But when the opening violin played and then Tradition came blasting from the speakers of my computer I knew that nothing could have been better and that the song embodied the theme of the play. And there, in that moment, like I had to agree with Sister Mary Immaculate who said the show was the most catholic musical with a little c!

The book goes on to describe the opening on Broadway, the various actors who appeared in the original run of eight years, the many permutations of the play throughout the world and the years and in every aspect the excitement keeps pace with the story.

Once Norman Jewison, not Jewish, is engaged to direct the movie version, the story becomes interesting in a whole different way. The stage, even with revolving concentric sections, is so small and limiting. It is a close, personal experience shared by actors and audience; it is intimate and emotional. A movie is more wide open and allows the story's setting to be much more defined. The actors have a much larger canvas on which to perform and the music is larger, too. Added to the art of Chagall whose work influenced so much of the staging and the writings of Sholom Aleichem which really were a very, very skeletal basis of the story,is the violin of Isaac Stern and the composition of John Williams to fill in the new spaces a movie creates. Here the excitement revolves around an international search for setting and players and it is every bit as engrossing as the back story of the Broadway production.

The coda summarizes all the various forms the revivals and world-wide productions that have ensued from the original production which opened 50 years ago.

It is a fabulous book that anyone interested in how a play is created, how it is adapted into a movie (in this case successfully, unlike the Unsinkable Molly Brown!), how it is cast and what it is like to be part of a production that has itself become part of musical theatre tradition would thoroughly enjoy. Now I'm going to YouTube to see if I can find the video of the production number the man who is responsible for In the Heights pulled together for his wife at their wedding. He used the song To Life to involve wedding party members, guests, both fathers in a huge celebration of the day. I'm dying to see Miranda's " To Life: Vanessa's Wedding Surprise" (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KgZ4ZTTfKO8 ), then I'm grabbing some popcorn and wine and settling in to watch Fiddler on the Roof for three hours. L'chaim!!

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1 comment:

  1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KgZ4ZTTfKO8

    Vanessa's Wedding Surprise, if interested