Fiddler on the Roof

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"A fiddler on the roof... Sounds crazy, no? But here in our little village of Anatevka, you might say every one of us is a fiddler on the roof, trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck."

Fiddler on the Roof is a popular musical from the 1960s, based on a set of stories by Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem (pen name for Solomon Rabinovich).

Set in the shtetl of Anatevka, in the Pale of Settlement of the Russian Empire, just before the Revolution of 1905, it tells the story of Tevye, a milkman with five daughters: Tzeitel, Hodel, Chava, Schprintze, and Bielke. The plot centers on Tevye and Golde's efforts to find husbands for their daughters, but their daughters break tradition by marrying for love rather than having their marriages arranged by Yente, the town matchmaker.

The original Broadway production starred Zero Mostel in the role that would make him famous, but producer-director Norman Jewison refused to cast him in the movie, feeling that his performance was too over the top, and chose Chaim Topol, star of the London production, instead. The movie was released in 1971. Originally, Jerome Robbins, the director-choreographer of the original musical, had shown an interest in directing the film as well, but the production company, Mirisch Pictures, refused to even consider the idea, due to the difficulties they had when Robbins was assigned to co-direct and choreograph West Side Story. (Robbins had spent so much time shooting and re-shooting scenes in his quest for perfection, that by the time he had completed about 60% of the picture, the film had gone $1,000,000 over budget and six months behind schedule. He was summarily fired from the film shoot and producer and co-director Robert Wise completed the film alone.)

Fiddler on the Roof remains a popular choice for high schools to this day.


Tropes used in Fiddler on the Roof include:
  • Actually Pretty Funny: The rabbi's son cracks up when Tevye jokes that the Jews' constant migrations is "why we never take off our hats."
  • Adaptation Distillation - in the original books, Tevye had seven daughters, and many aspects of his life (such as his journey from abject poverty to respectable milk farmer, earning him the "Reb Tevye" moniker, and the suicide of one of his daughters) were cut out.
  • Arranged Marriage - To life!
  • As the Good Book Says... - Probably Trope Namer. Tevye is always saying this to everyone, including the audience.
    • And he tries to tell God "As the Good Book says ..." before realizing that ...God already knows what the Good Book says
    • Subverted in that he makes up most of the quotes or gets them wrong.

Yes, well, somewhere, it says something about a chicken.

  • Awesome McCoolname: Lazar Wolf
  • Aw, Look -- They Really Do Love Each Other - Tevye and Golde, who after nearly 30 years of bickering, child bearing, and drudgery, realize that they really do love each other.
  • Being Good Sucks - The story starts off with his mule injuring its leg and Tevye's luck just goes downhill from there.
  • Bait and Switch: The "New Arrival" at Motel and Tzeitel's that everyone is goo-gooing over is...a sewing machine.
    • And done immediately in reverse when Tzeitel walks in with a newborn baby.
  • Berserk Button - Do not tell Grandma Tzeitel that her great-granddaughter is marrying Lazar Wolf.
    • Don't mention it to Fruma Sarah, either.
    • In a rare heartwarming example, Motel finally grows a pair and stands up to Tevye when he calls him a poor tailor.
  • Brawn Hilda: Fruma Sarah, Lazar Wolf's deceased wife, is sometimes depicted as one of these.
  • Brick Joke: In the opening, Tevye mentions that one of their traditions is always wearing hats. In the end, Tevye speculates that maybe the reason hats are constantly worn is because historically Jews/Hebrews have been forced out of a number of places at a moments notice.
  • Category Traitor: Tevye considers Chava to have passed the Moral Event Horizon for wanting to marry a guy who isn't Jewish, effectively telling her I Have No Daughter when she comes asking for his acceptance of her marriage. This is both Truth in Television and Values Dissonance, as the fragility and small numbers of the Jewish faith - especially in the film's setting of pre-revolutionary Russia, where Jewish communities (as we seen in the musical) were under constant threat of attack from the Christian majority - means that each marriage is an important part of the preservation of the religion. Marrying out of the faith for even many modern Orthodox Jews would be the ultimate betrayal.
  • Childhood Marriage Promise - Motel and Tzeitel
  • Child Marriage Veto: Tzeitel refuses to marry Lazar when Tevye tells her of the match. Granted, Tevye does relent after realizing how much she doesn't want to marry Lazar; Tzeitel might have gone along with it if he had continued to force the issue.
  • Compliment Backfire - TWO right after the other. Tevye tells the constable it's a shame he's not a Jew. The constable laughs it off, and tells Tevye he likes his joking. Both of them, however, realize what the other was saying, and look pretty miffed afterward.
  • Creepy Shadowed Undereyes - Played for Laughs in Tevye's "dream" sequence
  • Dark Reprise - of "Tradition" after Tevye disowns Chava. No words, but the chorus dancing in the back... dancing like they're trapped and can never escape...
  • Downer Ending - The only positive thing you can take out of that ending is that they didn't die.
  • Dream Ballet
  • Epic Song: If the entire male cast of the show is not doing its best to make "L'Chaim (To Life)" as bombastic, over-the-top and showstopping as humanly possible, that cast is doing it wrong.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Sure enough, the introductory shot of the film is a fiddler playing on a roof. (However, he may or may not be a metaphor, and he's definitely not the main character.)
  • First Guy Wins: Subverted, in the film at least; during the opening number "Tradition," we see Lazar Wolf looking at Tzeitel right before panning to Motel.
  • All Issues Are Political Issues: Perchik says something like this
  • Friendly Enemy - The constable and the village Russians, until the czar's decrees force them to become Punch Clock Villains.
  • Geeky Turn On - Motel, the town tailor. Also Chava and Fyedka, who meet at the bookseller.
  • Gossip Evolution - "The Rumour"

"Golde's been arrested, and Hodel's gone to Kiev! Motel studies dancing, and Tevye's acting strange. Shprintze has the measels, and Bielke has the mumps."
"And that's what comes from men and women dancing!"

  • Grief Song - "Chavaleh"
    • Although, if you actually listen to the lyrics, the whole thing is a sort of grief-song. Even "L'Chaim", one of the boisterous upbeat songs, has the lyrics:

"May all your futures be pleasant ones,
Not like our present ones...
It takes a wedding to make us say,
"Let's live another day..."

"May he get an itch he cannot scratch!"

Tevye: Thank you, your honor. You are a good man. If I may say so, it's too bad you're not a Jew.
Constable: [laughs] That's what I like about you, Tevye. You're always joking.

    • Awkward silence ensues as the Constable realizes Tevye was not joking.
  • Never Bareheaded - The characters are all Orthodox Jews, so this trope is naturally in play.
  • Nice Jewish Boy - Motel. Though in perhaps a bit of an aversion, Golde would prefer her daughter to marry a rich older man like Lazar Wolf.
  • Oh Crap - Tevye gets one when he realises he has to tell his wife about their daughter's change in marriage plans.

Golde! What am I going to tell Golde?!

  • One Dialogue, Two Conversations: Are Tevye and Lazar talking about a milk cow, or about Tzeitel?
  • One-Scene Wonder - Fruma Sarah. It's also a theatre role where hamming it up is required, along with a harness (or a cast member with a sturdy set of shoulders).
  • Opening Chorus - "Traditiooooooon!"
  • Opinion-Changing Dream - Invoked by Tevye to persuade his wife to let Tzeitel marry Motel.
  • Parental Marriage Veto - See I Have No Son.
  • Political Stereotype - Perchik, as the idealistic, left-wing university student.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation - If the story's main theme is tradition vs. upheaval, the way the musical approaches that theme is very different from the approach taken by its source material. Sholem Aleykhem's original stories, written for exclusively Jewish audiences around the turn of the century, stressed more the importance of upholding tradition despite surrounding social change. The musical, though, which was intended for a more general audience, seems to take the position that change - both good and bad - is inevitable. (Which was pretty much the theme of The Sixties, if you think about it.)
  • The Presents Were Never From Santa: Golde changes her mind about Tzeitel marrying Motel instead of Lazar Wolf by Tevye's prophetic dream from her great-grandmother... which Tevye entirely made up. The dream never happened.
  • Protagonist Title Fallacy - Teyve is not the fiddler on the roof; however, the fiddler represents the inhabitants of Anatevka: trying to play a pleasant old tune in perilous circumstances.
  • Proper Lady: Tzeitel.
  • Punch Clock Villain - The Constable, and if "L'Chaim" is any hint, possibly the rest of the Russian villagers.
    • Except for the fact that there is a very obviously implied tension when the Russian Villagers join the dancing. It recedes, jumps up when Tevye bumps into one, and recedes again, but is always there.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Possibly the only reason why Tevye can make the "dream" about Fruma Sarah into a plausible excuse for marrying Tzeitel off to Motel.
    • Actually even more clever and devious: Fruma Sarah's objection is the motivation; Grandma Tzeitel's is the excuse
  • Rule of Three - Three girls, three marriages that undo their father's expectations. They have more girls than that, of course, but only three have plot-important roles.
    • And, as mentioned above, in the stories, Tevye has seven daughters.
  • Secret Relationship - Chava.
  • Shrinking Violet - Chava.
  • Slap Slap Kiss - Hodel and Perchik.
  • Smite Me Oh Mighty Smiter

Perchik: "Money is the curse of the world."
Tevye [shouting to the Heavens]: "May God Smite me with it! AND MAY I NEVER RECOVER!"

  • Stealth Insult - "Is there a proper blessing for the czar?" "Yes. 'May God bless and keep the czar... far away from us!'"
    • Yente comes to one of the fathers telling him she has a match for his son, the shoemaker's daughter. The father protests, since the shoemaker's daughter is almost blind. Yente explains this is why it is such a perfect match, as a blind girl should have no worries about whether her husband is ugly.
  • Talking in Bed
  • That Russian Squat Dance: During "To Life! (L'Chaim!)".
  • That Wasn't a Request: When Perchik and Hodel tell Tevye (Hodel's father) of their engagement and he blusters that he won't allow it:

Hodel: You don't understand, Papa.
Tevye: I understand, I understand, because I said yes to Motel and Tzietel you feel you also have the right, but my answer is still no.
Perchik: No, Reb Tevye. You don't understand. We're not asking for your permission.