Anatevka, a Ukrainian Jewish village south of anywhere, was much the same in 1905 as anywhere is today.
Anatevka, a Ukrainian Jewish village south of anywhere, was much the same in 1905 as anywhere is today. That is to say, says Jewish actor Topol, that the world is just the same anywhere at any time, yet. So that's a good reason, maybe, for the success of the internationally famous "Fiddler on the Roof" stage production. And maybe, yet, even that's a good reason for turning it into a film -- which is just what Topol and Canadian director Norman Jewison are doing at Pinewood Studios, England, and on location in Yugoslavia.
It is not easy to explain the success of "Fiddler", which has been seen by about 30 million people in 20 countries. Perhaps, as Topol says, it's because life in Anatevka, the mythical village in which author Joseph Stein set his play, reflects all the human emotions, experiences and dreams of time immemorial. Happiness, oppression, ambition, conflict between tradition and progress, the old morality and the new. And so it is the same today -- a few wars and a global reshuffle later.
The story is not a true musical, in the sense that the songs and dances are a direct product of the play -- not dislocated and irrelevant glossy choreographies. The songs are how Ukrainian Jews like those in Anatevka in 1905 expressed their feelings. It was a way of life -- simple, beautiful, and ultimately sad when the revolution caught up with them and transported the people to distant lands. But no moral is drawn, nobody is blamed. It was just so.
Topol -- his first name, Chaim, is rarely used -- played "Fiddler on the Roof" first in Tel Aviv, and landed the same lead part, Tevye the milkman, in the London production which is still running after several years -- with Alfie "Boots" Bass now starring. Non-Jewish Norman Jewison, Canadian, directs the film. For atmosphere, he has studied a thousand Jewish books and manuscripts, and taken part in Yiddish celebrations. And if he should get something wrong, there are 20 or 30 Jewish members of the cast to help him, even.
So it is likely that Fiddler, with Topol in his old role as the milkman who is on talking terms with his old buddy God, will be a smash success. Its universal message is reflected in the question of the Japanese actor playing "Fiddler" in Tokyo. He asked author Jo Stein "We know why it's a hit here, but how is it they liked in it in New York yet?"