Debuting on Broadway in 1964, there have been few more popular and enduring musicals than Fiddler on the Roof.
With songs like “If I Were a Rich Man” and “Sunrise, Sunset,” the show held the record for longest run on Broadway for 10 years (replaced eventually by Grease) and has had repeated revivals over the years. The most recent Broadway staging, which was performed entirely in Yiddish, was extremely popular and received raves from critics and audience members.
The musical also inspired a 1971 film version, which continues to be an international hit, and the show even inspired a 2019 documentary, The Fiddler: Miracle of Miracles, which documents the 50-plus year history of the musical and addresses what continues to make it so popular in New York, London, and at high schools and universities.
The show also continues to tour regularly, with a version more in keeping with audience expectations than the Yiddish version which ran for more than a year.
Hoping to inspire
That touring version visits Fort Wayne’s Historic Embassy Theatre next week, bringing with it all the music, magic, and visual artistry that audiences have come to expect from the show.
One young actress, Ruthy Froch, who is proud of her own Jewish heritage, plays Hodel, one of Tevye and Golde’s daughters. She hopes that the show inspires similar pride for young Jewish children.
“Playing Hodel has truly been such a dream come true,” Froch said in an email interview. “Hodel is so strong, so intelligent, and she really is an early feminist. She wants to know the world and make something of herself. I love that I get to tell this story around our nation in front of so many young people. It’s a story about three young women learning the power of their voices and standing up for what they want, and I think that’s such an important story to tell.”
Froch has been building to this dream role since she was small, earning support and encouragement from parents and teachers who saw her potential.
“I was born and raised in Calabasas, California,” she said. “My mom always says that I was a very articulate child, always playing pretend and telling stories. I started out doing educational musicals in elementary school, Bugs: The Musical and the hit classic The Mighty Trash Avengers Save the Planet Earth. In third grade, our music director told my mom to put me in voice lessons and I think that’s where my training really began.
“I’ve always been performing so it’s hard to choose the direct moment that brought me to my career choice. But once I was bit by the theater bug it only made me want to do more. Then I studied at NYU/Tisch for my BFA which only propelled my inspiration and my desire to tell stories.”
Music stands the test of time
Fiddler on the Roof has remained popular thanks in no small part to the music which has stood the test of time.
“Sunrise, Sunset” has long been a standard at weddings, bringing a tear to many eyes when it’s played. In fact, it remains so traditional to weddings that lyricist Sheldon Harnick, who with Jerry Bock wrote the songs in Fiddler, tweaked the lyrics so they can be sung at same-sex weddings.
Although Tevye gets many of the great songs, Froch is happy she and her “sisters” get to sing one of the greats.
“I love doing ‘Matchmaker’ with my sisters. It just never gets old. Four-hundred-and-thirty shows later it still brings me such joy. And I love our particular version, I think it’s really special.”
Although rich with Jewish culture and tradition, no musical remains as popular as Fiddler on the Roof without speaking to all people, and there are few topics more universal than family which is ultimately at the heart of the show. Froch hears many reasons from audience members about why the musical is so beloved.
“It’s timeless,” she said. “No matter what stage of life you’re in, you relate to the characters, and it’s one of those musicals that people love. So many people come up to us at the stage door, saying, ‘I played Hodel in high school,” or ‘Fiddler was my first musical!’ It is also a story that hits close to home for many groups of people. It’s universal, and shares so many aspects of the human experience.”
After hundreds of performances of the spirited teenager Hodel, Froch thinks that appeal to a wide range of audiences and experiences is why Fiddler on the Roof will continue to charm audiences for years to come.
“I think Fiddler belongs in the category of ‘best musicals of all time,’” she said. “It is such an important story. It has theater magic, it shares the human experience, and connects people around the world.”
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