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<i>Fiddler on the Roof</i> Returns to Broadway - 2004-04-20

A revival of the beloved musical Fiddler on the Roof is back on Broadway 40 years after it first opened. The story of one family's struggle in a small village in early 20th century Russia was a huge hit in 1964. It became a popular movie and its music is still sung by artists who perform show tunes.

A wooden roof is suspended over a stage that shows a bleak winter setting of bare birch trees and gray skies. A fiddler plays a mournful tune on top of the roof and then talks about the hard life in the small Russian village of Anatevka.

"A fiddler on the roof. It sounds crazy, no," he asks. "In our little village of Anatevka you might say every one of us is a fiddler on a roof. Trying to scratch out a pleasant simple tune without breaking his neck. It isn't easy. You may ask why do we stay up here if it is so dangerous? We stay because Anatevka is our home and how do we keep our balance. That I can tell you in one word. Tradition!"

The play, set in 1905, stars Alfred Molina, best-known for his work in films, in the role of Tevya, the milkman. One of the great strengths of the show is universal appeal of the Tevya character. As a poor Jew struggling against discrimination in Russia, Tevya watches the world change through the choices his five daughters make.

Tevya's oldest daughter begs him to allow her to marry a poor tailor rather than a middle-aged butcher at a time when the town matchmaker arranged all marriages. Tevya gives in.

Then another daughter decides, on her own, to leave home to be near her true love, a revolutionary who has been sent to Siberia. In a final challenge to the Jewish traditions of the day, another daughter marries outside the faith in a decision which Tevya refuses to accept.

However, the show is not only about serious life choices and changing customs.

The musical is based on a short story written by Shalom Alecheim, who is known for his nostalgic accounts of life in Russian Jewish villages, known as shtetl.

In Anatevka, the poor residents turn to humor as a way to survive, giving Fiddler its reputation as a musical comedy.

In the end, as anti-semitism mounts, many of the town's residents, including Tevya's family, pack up their belongings to make a new life in the United States. In this way, Fiddler on the Roof is an age-old story familiar to many of the immigrant groups who settled in the United States.

Some critics think the revival lacks the comic tone of earlier productions, but others like the revival's emphasis on the somber quality of life at that time in Russia. Still, they all agree that the music, written by Jerry Bock, is timeless.