Fiddler: A Miracle Of Miracles ***

There’s a great deal of affection and recollection from the major players here, but what’s most fascinating is the show’s worldwide appeal. It’s a must-see for anyone who enjoys the musical.

Is it worth $10? Yes

Documentaries with a singular focus, such as “Fiddler: A Miracle Of Miracles,” tend to only entice those already familiar with the topic. Luckily for director Max Lewkowicz, his topic, the musical “Fiddler On The Roof,” doesn’t hurt for popularity – it has been performed somewhere in the world every single day since its Broadway debut in September 1964.

Hispanic and African-American secondary schools have performed the show. There’s been a Thai college production, a Japanese professional production, and everything in between. Lin-Manuel Miranda (“Hamilton”) was in the show when he was in sixth grade, and loves it so much he performed “To Life” at his wedding with his new father-in-law (no bottle dance, though). Joel Grey, an Oscar winner for “Cabaret,” starred in a Yiddish version of the show. He said a Japanese fan of his reached out to say it’s her favorite musical. “Everybody thinks it’s about them,” Grey said.

Indeed. How that universal appeal came to be, and why, are at the heart of this doc, which treats the musical with utmost esteem. We hear from Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, who created the music and lyrics, respectively. From Joseph Stein, who created the book for the show, and the late Harold “Hal” Prince, who produced it. Through this we also learn about the process of adapting Sholem Aleicheim’s “Teyve” stories, how incredibly difficult original director Jerome Robbins (“West Side Story”) was to work with, and how Broadway’s original Tevye, Zero Mostel, hated Robbins because Robbins named names to the House Un-American Activities Committee.

We hear from actors who’ve appeared in various incarnations of the show, including Topol, who starred in the original West End production in 1967, and in the 1971 film adaptation. These actors, industry insiders, cultural experts and fans lend insight into the show’s enduring appeal, its music and songs, and its social messages. For example, the reality of “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” is described as notably awful and akin to white slavery, a stark contrast to the lighthearted nature of the song.

There’s no right way to cover all this material, which perhaps explains why the film occasionally feels scattered, bouncing from one topic to the next without much segue. To Lewkowicz’s credit, all the topics feel relevant and reasonably well-explored, meaning even those unfamiliar with or unpassionate about the musical will learn something about its allure, and those who do love it will greatly enjoy each second of the 92 minutes.

“Fiddler On The Roof” is a musical about fathers and daughters, tradition, love, marriage, racism, stubbornness, and much, much more. Its greatest virtue is that it appeals to everyone in different ways, and works on all levels. That “Fiddler: A Miracle Or Miracles” embarks to understand, discuss and discern as much of that as possible is a bold undertaking. It would be hyperbole to say its success is a miracle, but it is impressive.

Did you know?
The original 1964 Broadway production won nine Tony awards, including Best Musical. Since then there have been five Broadway revivals in addition to the 1971 film.

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