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Fiddler on the Roof

Published: 10/26/2010

Fiddler on the RoofPlaywright Joseph Stein died earlier this week at age 98. Here are 10 facts about his most famous creation, Fiddler on the Roof.

1. Though Joseph Stein wrote the story for the Broadway production of Fiddler on Roof, the musical is based on the fictional memoir Tevye and His Daughters, written by Sholem Aleichem and first published in 1894.

2. Unlike most Eastern European Jewish literature at the time, the memoir was written in Yiddish rather than Hebrew. Sholem Aleichem lived most of his life in what is now Ukraine, but immigrated to New York City two years before his death in 1916.

3. The title “Fiddler on the Roof” was inspired by a Marc Chagall painting. The sets, designed by Boris Aronson, were also based on Chagall’s work.

The Fiddler

4. The original Broadway production opened on September 22, 1964 at the Imperial Theatre.

5. The main character, Tevye, was played by Zero Mostel. He was also considered by director Norman Jewison for the 1971 film adaptation, but Jewison felt Mostel’s interpretation was too broadly comical and instead cast actor Chaim Topol. Topol reprised the role in a 2005 touring production.

6. The role of Tevye has also been played by Hershell Bernardi, Theodore Bikel, Leonard Nimoy, Harvey Fierstein and Alfred Molina. Actor Paul Lipson holds the distinction of appearing as Tevye more than 2,000 times.

7. Bea Arthur and Pia Zadora also appeared in the original Broadway production.

8. Fiddler on the Roof was a smash hit, eventually going on to earn $1,574 for every $1 invested in the show. It was the first Broadway production to stage over 3,000 performances and earned 9 Tony Awards in 1965. In 1991, it won a Tony for Best Revival of a Musical.

9. The film version was shot mostly on soundstages in England, with exterior shots done in Croatia. The film won two Golden Globes and three Academy Awards – Best Song Score Adaptation, Best Cinematography and Best Sound. Chaim Topol was nominated in the Best Actor category, but lost to Gene Hackman for his role in The French Connection.

10. In 2007, Time Magazine ranked Fiddler on the Roof as the 7th most frequently produced musical in American high schools.

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