Celebrating 50th anniversary of 'Fiddler on the Roof' 

It has been well over a century since writer Solomon Rabinovich, under the pseudonym Sholem-Aleichem, introduced Tevye the milkman to the world. In 1964, almost 50 years after the author’s death in New York City, Tevye became the basis of the Broadway musical “Fiddler on the Roof.”

The golden anniversary of that adaptation is now being celebrated around the Bay Area in “Fiddler at 50,” a series of lectures, performances, screenings and other events this week exploring the legacy of the Tony Award-winning show (with music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick and book by Joseph Stein).

The Contemporary Jewish Museum, Jewish Community Center of the East Bay and of San Francisco, Sonoma State University and the Taube Center for Jewish Studies at Stanford University are among the festival’s collaborating organizers.

A highlight is sure to be Thursday’s concert in Berkeley with folk singer and actor Theodore Bikel, who has had a long history with the show — “37 years,” he says of the span between his first performance as Tevye and his most recent, “and I had an even longer relationship with the works of Sholem-Aleichem.”

Bikel, who has led the anthem “Tradition” longer than any other performer, including originator Zero Mostel, feels very connected to the character.

“Tevye is the Jewish everyman,” he says. “He also resembles very strongly my own grandfather, so it was not a far reach for me to be able to get the character.”

He points to Sholem-Aleichem’s storytelling skills as the core of Tevye’s enduring, far-reaching appeal. He says, “Confinement is antithetical to artistic achievement. The better a piece of literature, regardless of its possibly narrow ethnicity, the more the quality will make it a universal piece rather than an ethnically confined work.”

He also notes the tale’s inspirational setting, looking at the “totality of the shtetl, the totality of a people that are abjectly poor and yet manage to retain their dignity and their respect for themselves and for their traditions.”

Newcomers to the musical can take in one of multiple screenings of the Oscar-winning 1971 film starring Topol, including a singalong presentation hosted by comedian Josh Kornbluth, or experience a live production at Sonoma State University in February.

Literary and scholarly options abound, too. Alisa Solomon, New York drama critic and author of the definitive new book “Wonder of Wonders: A Cultural History of Fiddler on the Roof,” will give several talks around the Bay Area.


Theodore Bikel and Merima Kljuco

Where: Freight and Salvage Coffeehouse, 2020 Addison St., Berkeley

When: 8 p.m. Thursday

Tickets: $34 to $37

Contact: (510) 644-2020, www.thefreight.org, www.fiddlerat50.com

Fiddler at 50 select highlights

Programs are free unless noted.

Tuesday, 2 p.m. “Fiddler on the Roof” film screening. Contemporary Jewish Museum, 736 Mission St., S.F.

Wednesday, 6:30 p.m. Singalong, film screening with Josh Kornbluth. California Theatre, 2113 Kittredge St., Berkeley, $12-$15

Wednesday, 9 p.m. Reception, klezmer dance party. Magnes Collection, 2121 Allston Way, Berkeley, free with singalong ticket stub

Thursday, 1 p.m. Conference with keynote speaker Alisa Solomon, author of “Wonder of Wonders: A Cultural History of Fiddler on the Roof.” Graduate Theological Union Library, 2400 Ridge Road, Berkeley

Sunday, 7 p.m. Tribute to “Fiddler” and Sholem-Aleichem with a performance by Ram’s Head Theatrical Society and documentary screening. Hillel at Stanford, Koret Pavilion, Stanford University, 565 Mayfield Ave., Stanford

Jan. 13, 2 to 5 p.m. Symposium with Jewish studies scholars, followed by a lecture, “Fiddler’s Fortunes,” by Alisa Solomon. Stanford Humanities Center, Stanford University, 424 Santa Teresa St., Stanford

Jan. 14, 7 p.m. “Celebrating a Half-Century of Fiddler on the Roof” with Alisa Solomon. Jewish Community Center, 3200 California St., S.F., $15

About The Author

Robert Sokol

Robert Sokol

Robert Sokol is the editor at BAYSTAGES, the creative director at VIA MEDIA, and a lifelong arts supporter. Diva wrangler, cinefiler, and occasional saloon singer, he has been touching showbiz all his life. (So far no restraining orders have been issued!)... more
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