“Fiddler on the Roof” – A musical cry from beleaguered Ukraine


By Bruce Chadwick

originally published: 06/05/2022

The musical told fiddler on the roof comes to Morristown Mayo Performing Arts Center June 17 and 18. In case you’ve forgotten, it’s a wonderful story of a family headed by a tough old father, Tevye, who puts up with a lot of change from his children and fights to keep its people together in a changing and explosive politics. climate in 1905 in Russia.

A familiar theater story, isn’t it? You forgot one thing, though – the family lives in Ukraine.

Here we are, 117 years later and what’s in all the headlines? Ukrainian families driven from their villages – killed in their villages – by Russians in a changing political climate. And one of Tevye’s daughters falls in love with Perchik, who lives in Kyiv, besieged today like Tevye’s village of Anatevka was in 1905.

The Morristown play is a sad yet triumphant musical story of Tevye’s strength as a father, husband and friend in a country torn apart by political divisiveness, just as it is today.

fiddler on the roof, often shown on television, was a hit play in 1964, one of Broadway’s longest-running shows, and a huge movie hit in 1971. The play’s powerful book is by Joseph Stein and is based on the stories of Sholem Aleichem. Music is by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick. History humanized all oppressed Jews in Russia in 1905 amid political pogroms. Pogroms were planned and orchestrated attacks on Jews by the Russian government with the aim of forcing them to leave Russia. The most famous was in kyiv – three days of rioting in which between 47 and 100 Jews were killed, more than 300 injured and millions of dollars worth of property destroyed. There were nearly a hundred pogroms in 1905 in Russia and thousands of Jews fled and went to Europe and America.

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In 1964, when the play was first staged, there was peace in Ukraine, not even a hint of trouble. Over the years, the story of Tevye and her daughters has taken on almost mythical proportions. Oh, people said, that was a long time ago. It could never happen again. Nope? Ask President Volodymyr Zelensky or any Ukrainian. Or just turn on the TV news in the evening. Or read a newspaper.

Fiddler is the story of people and their strength in the face of adversity. The Jews of Anatevka do it in tales and songs. Who can forget songs like Tradition, Matchmaker, Matchmaker, If I Were a Rich Man, “To Life”, “Miracle of Miracles”, Sunrise, Sunset, “ and, oh, that fabulous bottle dance!

"A fiddler on the roof"  - A musical cry from beleaguered Ukraine

“I think the book, Tevye’s story is brilliant. It’s one of the best stories in the history of musical theater,” said Danny Arnoldwho plays the role of Tevye in the traveling play of Fiddler directed to the Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown. “The story has well-drawn characters that you never forget, conflicts between parents and children, troubles in a small town, the Russian government, anti-Semitism. It’s very serious and, at times, it’s is very funny. I love it.”

Arnold has been with the show, on and off, with a few COVID breaks, since 2018. When he heard about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, he was shocked. “I mean, it was a full-scale invasion, not just political discussions,” he said. “It gave me a new love for the Jews in the room,” he said.

By the way, the musical is dedicated to residents of Ukraine and includes a short speech in support of them.

"A fiddler on the roof"  - A musical cry from beleaguered Ukraine

Danny Arnold has been in love with the play all his life. He went to see Fiddler when he was in high school. It was nearby at Roxbury High School. “I fell in love with Fiddler right there, at that moment,” he said.

He graduated from high school, went to college, and got himself a teaching job in Morris County. He spent ten years behind the desk before quitting that job to become a full-time actor. “I was in plays, once in a while, for years – part-time. Finally, I just couldn’t bear NOT to be an actor and jumped into show business,” a- he declared.

What hit him Fiddler was how Tevye’s marriage and family are portrayed.

“It was 1905 and here we are a hundred years later with our marriages and our relationships, some good and some bad, with our own spouses and children. People come to us after a show and say it was my life, my children, in the play,” Arnold said. “That’s part of the power of the play — reaching out across decades to affect people the same way.”

"A fiddler on the roof"  - A musical cry from beleaguered Ukraine

He sees Tevye as “a man of many colors”. “He is a farmer, a husband, a father, a member of the community. He has good times and bad times. He’s a deep, deep man who lived through troubled times. Everything about his life and religion is questioned in the play. At the end, you see his deep love for his family. I liked it,” Arnold said.

And he also likes the “bottle dance”. “Oh yes!” he said. “Our choreographer tried to stage the piece as close to the 1964 show as he could. He loves the ‘bottle dance’. We all do. It’s just inspired.

"A fiddler on the roof"  - A musical cry from beleaguered Ukraine

This Tevye has a pretty deep understanding of why this is such a memorable game over the years. “In most plays the audience remembers the songs, but here they all remember the story. It’s the struggle for change, plus the struggle to survive pogroms, that makes this such an appealing play. People will be singing his praises 50 years from now,” Arnold said.

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As for the actor, it’s a bit of a homecoming. He grew up in Succasunna. “I actually went to the Mayor Performing Arts Center several times for concerts and once to see a play. I’ve also spent a lot of time in Morristown over the years,” he said.

So, to Arnold and Tevye, “l’chaim!”

"A fiddler on the roof"  - A musical cry from beleaguered Ukraine

Pictures of Joan Marcus

Bruce Chadwick worked for 23 years as an entertainment writer/critic for the New York Daily News. Later, he was an arts and entertainment critic for History News Network, a national online weekly. Chadwick holds a Ph.D. in History and Cultural Studies from Rutgers University. He has written 31 books on United States history and has lectured on history and culture around the world. He is a professor of history at New Jersey City University.

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