Sunday, May 27, 2018

Tradition!: The Highly Improbable, Ultimately Triumphant Broadway-to-Hollywood Story of Fiddler on the Roof, the World's Most Beloved Musical Barbara Isenberg St. Martin's Press 2014 256 Pages $26.99 ISBN: 978-0312591427

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.

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