Two weeks after “Fiddler on the Roof” opened in New York, Brooks Atkinson wrote in the The New York Times “When Sholem Aleichem died in the Bronx in 1916 nothing seemed more unlikely than a big Broadway musical play based on his stories.”
Atkinson explained that in Aleichem’s era, musical theatre was classified as entertainment rather than art. And Aleichem’s tales represented “political and cultural realtaionships that created so lively and crotchety a civilization.”
He concluded Aleichem would have enjoyed “the irony of being the source of a Broadway musical comedy that cost $375,000 to produce and began with an advanced sale of $650,000. When he was dying he said, ‘Let me be buried among the poor, that their graves may shine on mine and mine on theirs.’ Now a lot of strangers are going to make huge sums of money out of artful simplicity.”
The first and very successful Broadway production of “Fiddler on the Roof” ran for about seven and a half years in three different venues:The Imperial, Majestic, and Broadway Theatres.
Reaction to the show was so great that Sam Zolotow of The New York Times reported “a double line of 300 ticket seekers” formed in front of The Imperial Theatre the afternoon following the opening night.
Howard Taubman of The New York Times wrote that Mostel’s Tevye was “a unified, lyrical conception.”
Likewise, he thought the production “goes beyond local color and lays bare in quick, moving strokes the sorrow of a people subject to sudden tempests of vandalism and, in the end, to eviction and exile from a place that had been home,” thus touching “honestly on the customs of the Jewish community in such a Russian village”.
Mostel also received praise from Back Stage’s Allen Zwerdling.
“ We’ve used up the most adjectives for his past performances, but he’s topped everything he’s ever done before, Let’s say Zero’s Tevye is the closest we’ve seen anyone ever come to approaching the genius of Charlie Chaplin”.
William Glover of the Chicago Tribune applauded director and choreographer Jerome Robbins, whose “staging is brisk and is highlighted by memorable dances ranging from the joyously headlong to the wistfully delicate”.
Glover also wrote a review for the Los Angeles Times, giving kudos to Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick’s score which “includes several numbers of haunting loveliness. ‘Sunrise Sunset’ is the best of all.”
A review in the Wall Street Journal stated “There is serious thought given to the breaking up of the old Hebrew customs. The girls begin to assert independence in marriage. Dancing of men with women, heretofore unheard of by the strict Hebrew community, and other deviations from the letter of old faith are portrayed.”
Click HERE to read how “Fiddler on the Roof” did at the 1965 Tony Awards.