Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles

 

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An affectionate study of a musical famed both on stage and film.

 
Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles

  

The musical Fiddler on the Roof opened on Broadway in 1964 and every day since then it has been performed somewhere in the world. That does indeed count as some kind of miracle and this documentary feature by Mark Lewkowicz sets out to celebrate it. To be frank, this venture reminds me of the kind of lavish extras often to be found on modern-day Blu-ray and DVD discs and, seeing it in that light and as a work of propaganda for the show, some critics might lower their ratings accordingly. For myself I feel that it is more appropriate to accept this piece for what it is and to recognise the fact that this documentary will give much pleasure to admirers of the show.

 

The approach adopted here is many-layered. One aspect is what one might term the origin story: how it came about that a story by Sholom Aleichem was taken up as the basis for a musical show, how the preparations went (not least the key contributions by choreographer Jerome Robbins who was a difficult man to deal with), the try out in Detroit where it was badly received and its arrival on Broadway when the public immediately took to it en masse despite critics’ reviews that were decidedly mixed. Then there’s the testimony from some of those originally involved: the film is dedicated to the memory of the show’s original producer Hal Prince who contributed shortly before his death alongside the surviving lyricist Sheldon Harnick while others have their say through comments made earlier (one such being the composer Jerry Bock who died in 2010).

 

Other interviewees seek to explain the appeal of a show that might have seemed too dark to be a successful musical and one mainly destined for Jewish audiences of the day. Thus Fiddler is described here as a Janus-faced work, one that celebrates elements of traditional Jewish community life while also criticising some of them (set in 1905 it shows daughters confronting the notion of arranged marriages). It is also seen as being so concerned with people being displaced that it communicates widely outside of its ethnic setting and speaks to immigrants of today - and, indeed of all times. This helps to explain why, in addition to being staged recently in Yiddish, it has also been enormously popular in countries as contrasted as Japan and Spain.

 

In some ways the most telling scenes in this film are the extracts from staged productions, many of recent times. In addition to comments from the artists involved (a younger generation wholly enthusiastic about this show first produced over fifty years ago), one finds here a sense of the innate theatricality of Fiddler (Norman Jewison is seen commenting on his popular screen version which is featured too, but it is on stage that the piece really thrives). If this film will have natural appeal for older viewers looking back on the show, it is a very neat touch that one of the main contributors embracing it so wholeheartedly is a young man of the moment, the star of Hamilton Lin-Manuel Miranda.

 

For screening venues and times please visit:  http://fiddlerfilm.co.uk

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  Sheldon Harnick, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Harold Prince, Norman Jewison, Danny Burstein, Joel Grey, Harvey Fierstein, Stephen Sondheim, Ted Chapin, Austin Pendleton, Josh Mostel, Jessica Hecht.

 

Dir Max Lewkowicz, Pro Max Lewkowicz and Valerie Thomas, Screenplay Max Lewkowicz and Valerie Thomas, Ph Scott Shelley, Ed Joseph Borruso, Music Guy Mintus, Animation Tess Martin.

 

Dog Green Productions/Roadside Attractions/Samuel Goldwyn Films-Samuel Goldwyn Films.
97 mins. USA. 2019. Rel: 13 December 2019. Cert. 12A.