Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles is a Documentary from Roadside Attractions & Samuel Goldwyn Films.
SUPERLATIVE! There, I’ve said it. And in fairness, it’s worthy to note that I’ve never used that adjective to describe anything in any pervious reviews for this publication, or any other in the years I’ve been covering mostly the New York Theater Scene. Including concerts, operas, and films.You may ask,” How did I arrive at such an assessment?” I’ll tell you. I DON’T KNOW!” But it’s a TRAD….
Sorry, folks, this show is contagious in ways of expression, and after viewing it multiple times now, it’s obvious that it has been years in the making and a labor of transcendent love.
Assiduously researched and breathtaking in it breadth, Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles is from their own notes:”the first in-depth documentary film that chronicles the life and themes of this iconic offering of American culture.””The goal of our documentary”, says director Max Lewkowicz, ” is to understand why the story of Tevye the milkman is reborn again and again as beloved entertainment and cultural touchstone the world over.” And that goal is achieved and THEN some.
From its opening shot we hear and see an elderly lone fiddler on indeed a roof in Manhattan, recognizably bowing the familiar theme. Is it Itzhak Perlman?
No the sound is too thin and the fiddler’s too old. Who is it then? OMG, it’s SHELDON HARNICK, himself, 95 years and sharp as a Shtetle cobbler’s tack,and playing the tune, uh, not so bad! And it’s from the redoubtable Mr. Harnick, still very much with us, that precious pieces of information are conveyed with unimpeachable authority.
Lamentably indeed, his great composer collaborator, Jerry Bock passed away nearly ten years ago. the same is true of Book author, Joseph Stein, and of course those who follow American Theater, nay, World Theater, well know that the original Producer, Harold Prince, (Splash Memory) left us but a few weeks ago, and original director -choreographer, Jerome Robbins more than twenty years.That this film includes interviews and performances of those deceased as well as those remaining touches on more than the hint of immortality of its subjects and makes it exceedingly valuable.
What Harnick provides from the perspective of today and with perfect recall in inside information on the creation of this masterpiece is beyond evaluation. The interviews alone that he gives would justify that statement, but in addition, we hear a private collaborating reel to reel tape of Bock sending musical ideas, which rather than being in the same room at the piano, was the way they created. This was true of not merely this work, but the Pulitzer Prize winning “FIORELLO!”, as well as “SHE LOVES ME”, “THE APPLE TREE”, and “THE ROTHCHILDS” to name but a few. (Gilbert and Sullivan collaborated chiefly by POST! ). Listening to Bock speak on the tape to his partner and offer the first fingerings on the piano of what he almost apologetically describes as, “somewhat musical comedy, but could also possibly be a tour de force for the performer”, we discover the first rendition of what was to become “IF I WERE A RICH MAN”. Later in the film no less an authority on American Musicals than Lin-Manuel Miranda, considers it as the most universal in aspirational songs ever composed for the American Musical stage.
And yet, these are but delectable ingredients to a feast of interviews and information with creators and performers from the original cast such as Austin Pendleton, who still can’t believe his good fortune in being on the original cast album, especially when he “KNEW” he was to be fired by the time of the Washington D.C. tryout. Or when he wasn’t, but was able to be the first Motel Kamzoil to sing the song that became part of the title of a book and this film, namely “Miracle of Miracles”, yet upon reading Walter Keer’s rather tepid opening night review in the fall of 1964, Pendleton mused, “Oh, I’ll be out of a job in a couple of months.” And the next morning when Hal Prince witnessed the line around the block of the Imperial Theatre, he personally served coffee to the patrons standing there to buy tickets. Jerry Bock’s attorney who had days before the opening cautioned the composer who wanted to buy a new refrigerator, to hold off since such expenditures had not been set aside. When the lawyer also saw the line on 46th St that day, immediately from a phone booth called Jerry and spoke,” You know that refrigerator? BUY IT!”
However so much more than such joyous anecdotes are touched on, but rather deeply perspicacious observations, recollections, and analyses from cast members from among the numerous Broadway revivals, such as Harvey Fierstein, who played Tevye with Rosie O’ Donnell earlier this decade, and more recently, Danny Burstein and Jessica Hecht in the more recent Bartlett Sher production, which I quite favorably reviewed for this publication two years ago. Now, of course, we have the heralded ALL YIDDISH version playing on 42nd St. directed by Joel Grey and starring Steven Skybell that recently took the Drama Desk Award for Off- B’way revival. In addition, are the vivid recollections regarding Jerome Robbins (aka Rabinowitz) who according to Harnick and Stein kept asking the question, “What is this story about?” And their patient repeatition to the genius choreographer-director that these are stories of Shalom Aleichem about a poor milkman and his five daughters, which would be refuted again and again by Robbins until Stein, Bock and Harnick uttered that it’s “about …..Tradition”.
“Write your opening about THAT!”, replied Robbins, and perhaps, that’s a perfect example of why, to this day, Stephen Sondheim, with whom Robbins helped create “West Side Story” and despite the incalculable contributions of Leonard Bernstein, considers Robbins to be” the only genius I’ve ever worked with.”
And STILL, there is more insight, from the filmmaker, Norman Jewison, Chaim Topol, as well as daughters from the film, and it’s Perchik, Paul Michael Glaser. Scholars expound, as do critics and historians, about the recounting of a 1971 Brooklyn Middle School production of chiefly African American and Latino youths amidst anti-semitic tensions in the neighborhood with picketing and bomb threats because members of the faculty and parts of the Jewish community feared that the young performers would corrupt the show with derision and parody, found to their amazed relief the touching dedication of those young performers identifying with being called “outsiders” and beautifully rendering this piece of American collective genius with aplomb, further establishing that the show in itself is virtually indestructible.
Two quotes worth recounting: from Jessica Hecht and Danny Burstein who brilliantly played Golde and Tevya in the Bartlett Sher Broadway revival of three years ago:
‘On a gut level, we are all connected to this. I don’t think there is any other show that has done that for more people.”-Hecht
” As humankind exists and continues to struggle, “Fiddler On The Roof” will be there.”- Burstein
In this age we are now living, with refugees a constant topic, and our nation which previously had been the safeguard for the world’s refuse, and now when such values are questioned by authorities in power, this “A Miracle of Miracles” could not be more required in our midst.
Directed by Max Lewkowicz, Written and Produced by Max Lewkowicz & Valerie Thomas Executive Produced Ann Oster, Patti Kenner, and Rita Lerner.
Featuring interviews with members of the Original Creative Team: Sheldon Harnick (Lyricist), Jerry Bock (Music), Joseph Stein (Book), and Harold Prince (Producer).
Members of the Original Cast: Austin Pendleton and Joanna Merlin and (in no particular order but brilliantly presented via exquisite editing by Joseph Borruso),Danny Burstein, Jessica Hecht, Lin- Manuel Miranda, Joel Grey, Chaim Topol, Harvey Fierstein, Fran Lebowitz, Calvin Trillin, Nathan Englander, Marc Aronson, Ted Chapin, Charles Isherwood, Norman Jewison, Rosalind Harris, Paul Michael Glaser, Michael Bernardi, Josh Mostel, Bartlett Sher, Steven Skybell, Stephen Sondheim, Itzhak Perlman, and MORE (HAND To GOD!)
Made in Partnership With: Museum of Jewish Heritage: A Living Memorial To the Holocaust.
Find “A Miracle of Miracles” locally.