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Zero as Tevye

September 21, 2017

Fiddler on the Roof opened on Broadway on this date in 1964 and ran for 3,242 performances. The show rescued Zero Mostel from McCarthyism’s blacklist, which had plagued him since his refusal in 1955 to cooperate with the House Committee on Un-American Activities. To achieve this rescue, Mostel had to work closely with Jerome Robbins, who choreographed “Fiddler” and had been a cooperating witness before HUAC.

The musical is based on Sholem Aleichem’s Tevye the Milkman, about the disintegration of traditional Jewish life in the villages of Eastern Europe at the turn of the 20th century. The wild popularity of “Fiddler” helped to mark the end of the assimilationist, name-changing phase of Jewish adaptation to America. In the late 1960s, Mad magazine parodied the musical with “Antenna on the Roof,” in which Tevye sings not about “Tradition!” but about “Possessions!”

“Perchik: Money is the world’s curse.
“Tevye: May the Lord smite me with it. And may I never recover.” —from the screenplay by Joseph Stein