Fiddler on the Roof
Based on stories by Sholom Aleichem and the play by Joseph Stein and directed by Norman Jewison, a Jewish family is persecuted in Czarist Russia and has three daughters who find husbands in ways that are not traditional.
A fiddler plays on a roof, and the milkman Tevye (Topol) explains that living in the village of Anatevka in Russia is like trying to scratch out a living without breaking one’s neck. He says they live here because Anatevka is their home, and they keep their balance by tradition. As he delivers milk to houses, Tevye describes some of their traditions as helping them understand what their roles are in society. Papa is the authority in the home, but the mama keeps the house. The daughters are supposed to marry whomever papa picks. Yente the matchmaker and the rabbi have important functions. Tevye says they don’t bother the Christians, and so far they do not trouble them. Sometimes the Jews quarrel with each other such as over the age of a horse that was sold. Tevye says without traditions their lives would be shaky.
Yente (Molly Picon) comes to the house, and the oldest daughter Tzeitel (Rosalind Harris) tells her mother Golde (Norma Crane) she may not like who she picks for her to marry. Yenta sits down and talks with Golde. Motel (Leonard Frey) arrives and asks to see Tzeitel, but Golde sends him away. Yente picks up some food and says she has to go. Golde asks what was the news she brought. They sit down again, and Yente says that Lazar Wolf the butcher wants to marry Tzeitel. Golde is happy but says that Tevye wants a learned man. Yente advises her to have Tevye talk with Lazar. Yente leaves. Golde tells the children to dress for the Sabbath. The sisters Hodel (Michele Marsh) and Chava (Neva Small) talk with Tzeitel about what matches Yente will make for them, and they sing “Matchmaker.” Hodel admits she would like to marry the rabbi’s son. Tzeitel pretends to be Yente and tells her sisters whom they must marry. They realize their family is poor, and they pray that the day may be delayed unless they can get a matchless match.
Tevye with his horse and cart on a road asks God why he had to make his horse lame just before the Sabbath. Golde asks why he is late and tells him to hurry. Tevye says he still has deliveries in the village and says he won’t be late. Tevye asks God for the cure for the sickness they already have. In the barn he says he is not complaining, but he is starving. He asks God to give him a small fortune and sings “If I Were a Rich Man.” He feeds the chickens and wishes for more farm animals. He would like his wife to have servants to help her, and he would give advice to the wise men in the town. He would like to have more time to pray and discuss the holy books with learned men.
Tevye is pulling his wagon, and the Constable (Louis Zorich) asks what happened to his horse. Men gather with Tevye to hear the news. Avram (Alfie Scopp) reads a news story that in a village all the Jews were evicted and were forced to leave their homes. He says it was an edict from the authorities. Perchik (Paul Michael Glaser) approaches and asks why they chatter and admits he is not from there. He is a student and tells them they should understand the outside world. Tevye gives out the milk and gives some to the beggar also and some for the rabbi. Tevye quotes from the Bible, and a young student of the rabbi corrects him. Tevye gives some bread to Perchik who says some day the wealth will be theirs. Tevye asks Perchik how he will live until then, and he says he can give lessons. Tevye says he has five daughters, and Perchik offers to teach them. Tevye offers him food for lessons, and they shake on it.
At home Tevye introduces Perchik to his family and to Motel the tailor. Golde tells them all to get ready.
Motel tells Tzeitel that someone is going to sell him a used sewing machine.
Golde tells Tevye that Motel wants to talk to him, and she urges him to do so.
Tzeitel tells Motel to ask her father for her hand, and he agrees to talk to him. Tevye tells Motel not now. Motel persists but only wishes Tevye a good Sabbath. Tzeitel is disappointed. They stand around the table and pray. They sing the “Sabbath Prayer.” Perchik and Hodel look at each other. Tevye prays that God will send his daughters husbands who will care for them.
Tevye calls on Lazar Wolf (Paul Mann) and is impressed with his elegant home. They sit down, and Lazar pours drinks. Lazar asks about his brother-in-law in America, and they drink another vodka. Lazar supposes Tevye knows why he wants to talk to him. Tevye thinks he wants his new milk cow, but Lazar, who has a gray beard, laughs and says he wants to marry his daughter Tzeitel. Tevye thinks about it, realizes his daughter will never go hungry, and agrees it is a match. They drink some more, and they sing “To Life” and walk together to a saloon where they celebrate the match with other men. They sing and dance. A Russian sings a blessing for them and hopes they will live together in peace. The Russian men dance, and one extends his hand to Tevye. He dances with them and says he likes it. They all dance together in a circle.
Outside Lazar tells Tevye that after the wedding Tevye will be his papa. Tevye says he wanted a son younger than himself and laughs. Tevye is drinking and staggers away. The constable congratulations him and tells him as a friend that they got orders this district must have a little demonstration. Tevye asks if it is a pogrom. The constable says there must be some mischief so that the inspector will see that they did their duty. Tevye thanks him for telling him and says he is a good man and wishes he were a Jew. The constable thinks he is joking and walks away. Tevye asks God why he has to give him that news on this day and wishes he told someone else. He thanks God for sending a husband to Tzeitel. The fiddler plays for him.
By the river Perchik is teaching the younger daughters that the story of Jacob shows that you can never trust an employer. Golde on the bridge tells the girls to do their work. Hodel says she doubts the rabbi would agree with his interpretation. She says Perchik has strange ideas about turning the world upside down. He argues with her, and she says a boy should respect a girl. He takes her hands and shows her a new dance they are doing in Kiev. She says it is very nice. He says they changed an old custom, and she thanks him and leaves.
Tevye has a hangover, and Golde says he is finally out of bed. She asks what happened last night with Lazar Wolf. He asks her to be patient. They walk into the barn where Tzeitel is milking the cow. He congratulates her that she is going to marry Lazar Wolf. Golde is happy, but Tzeitel is shocked. Golde kisses her and hopes she will grow old with him. Golde says she must thank Yente and goes out. Chava congratulates Tzeitel, and Perchik says she got a rich man. Tevye asks what is wrong with that. Perchik says money is the world’s curse, and Tevye asks for that. Perchik leaves, and Tevye asks Tzeitel if she is happy with the match. She says she can’t marry him. Tevye says he must do what he tells her. Tzeitel says she will hire herself out as a servant to get money. He says he made an agreement. She asks if that is more important than she is. She begs him not to force her and goes on her knees and cries. He agrees not to force her, and she thanks him. Motel comes running in and asks to speak to Tevye who says he has problems. Tzeitel asks her father to listen to him. Motel says he heard about the match he arranged and says he has a match that is a perfect fit. Tevye tells him not to talk like a tailor and asks who it is. Motel timidly says it is himself. Tevye says he is crazy arranging a match for himself. Motel admits it is unusual to make his own match. He says that a year ago he and Tzeitel gave each other a pledge that they would marry. Tzeitel admits they did. Tevye asks who they think they are because this is against the tradition of the papa arranging the marriage. Motel says he wanted to ask him some time ago, but he has been saving up to get his own sewing machine. He says even a tailor is entitled to happiness, and he promises that his daughter will not starve. Tevye thinks about this match, and he sees that his daughter loves him. Tevye asks when they should make the wedding. Motel shakes his hand, and they thank him. They run off together. Tevye asks God what he will tell Golde.
Motel and Tzeitel run in the forest, and he sings “Miracle of Miracles” about the miracles in the Old Testament and compares them to God giving her to him.
Chava is walking on a dirt road with the cow. Four Russian peasants gather around her, and Fyedka (Ray Lovelock) comes out of the corn field and tells them to leave her alone. They walk away, and he tries to talk to her. She says she would rather not. He offers to loan her a book to read. He asks if she does not like him because he is not Jewish. He tells her he is a fine man and smiles at her. He urges her to take the book so that they can talk about it and life. She accepts the book with bowed head and walks away. He says good day and tells her his name as she goes.
At night Tevye is in bed and wakes up Golde. He asks where Tzeitel is and that he saw Lazar’s first wife Fruma Sarah. Golde says she has been dead for years and that he must have been dreaming. She tells him to tell her about his dream, and she will explain what it means. He says he dreamt they were having a celebration, and all the beloved departed were there. Her grandmother Tzeitel appears in a wedding dress and congratulates Tevye on his daughter Tzeitel marrying Motel the tailor. Golde says she must have heard wrong. Tevye tells her she must mean the butcher Lazar Wolf, but old Tzeitel sings it is the tailor who is meant for the daughter named after her. Then they see the butcher’s wife come from beyond the grave. Fruma Sarah comes out of the ground and sings complaining that his daughter is marrying her husband. She predicts what will happen if they wed. She pities them because she will live with him for only three weeks, and then she will come to her at night and take her by the throat. Tevye and Golde run away from her and jump on to their bed in a grave. Golde exclaims what an evil spirit that was. She says if her grandmother Tzeitel came from the other world, she must be right. Tevye agrees with her and is happy.
Motel is dressed up and tries on his top hat.
An official asks the constable if he likes these Christ-killers, but the constable laughs and says he will take care of it. The official leaves with soldiers.
At sunset Jews parade in the village with candles as a band plays. Motel is followed by the Tevye’s family and many friends.
Under a canopy the rabbi (Zvee Scooler) conducts the wedding ceremony with Motel and Tzeitel as Tevye, Golde, and others sing “Sunrise, Sunset.” Perchik and Hodel sing also, wondering if they will wed too. Motel and Tzeitel drink from the cup. Then he crushes a glass with his foot, and they all congratulate them. Tzeitel dances with her sisters and other women as the men dance with Motel. A man puts a bottle on his head and dances, and others join him. Motel, Tzeitel, Tevye, and Golde sit at a table with a few others. A man announces some of the wedding gifts. He says Lazar Wolf has no ill feelings, and Lazar announces that he is giving them five chickens. Tevye stands up and accepts the gift. Lazar interrupts his speech and says he is not marrying his daughter and does not have to listen to his sayings. They quarrel, and the rabbi tells them to sit down. During a song Tevye and Lazar shout at each other. Finally Perchik gets their attention and says Tzeitel wanted to marry Motel and not Lazar. Perchik asks who will dance with him, but the men object to him dancing with a girl. He has them ask the rabbi if it is a sin. The rabbi says it is not forbidden. Perchik asks Hodel to dance, and he removes the rope that separated the men from the women. He puts out his hand, and they dance together. Tevye says he is going to dance with his wife and gets her to do so. Motel dances with Tzeitel. Lazar blames Yente for this. Tevye gets the rabbi dancing with Hodel. Tevye sees the police and motions for the music to stop. The Russians on horses break up the celebration and destroy wedding gifts. The constable says that is enough, and his men ride off. He says orders are orders and leaves. Tevye asks why they are standing around and tells them to clean up. He begins to do so, and the others slowly help him.
In the village the Russians break windows and set fires.
Tevye leads his horse and cart. He talks with God as he unloads baskets of corn. He says Motel and Tzeitel are poor but happy. He asks God to help Motel get a sewing machine. He mentions that his horse is lame again.
By the river Perchik tells Hodel that he has to go away in the morning with a few friends. He will be joining others in Kiev. He says he cannot tell her some things. He tells her not to be upset. He says great changes are going to happen, but they will not happen by themselves. She says she understands and says goodbye. He says he has work to do. He runs after her and says he has a question to ask her, a political question. She asks what it is, and he says it is about marriage. He says everything is political. He says marriage must be based on mutual beliefs and has social value, and she keeps reminding him that affection is important. He agrees and says he favors this socio-economic relationship. She asks if he is asking her to marry him, and he admits he is. She is glad, and he is happy.
Tevye is crossing the bridge and sees Perchik with Hodel. Perchik says he is leaving, but he has good news too and says they are engaged. Tevye says he is going away and that his answer is no. Hodel says he does not understand. Perchik says they are not asking for his permission but only for his blessing. Tevye thinks about this and complains that at least Motel and Tzeitel asked his permission. He asks what is happening to the tradition. He says Perchik is abandoning her, but he says he will send for her and marry her as soon as he can. Tevye thinks about whether they need a matchmaker and realizes it must be God. He realizes that she loves him. Tevye tells them he is giving them his blessing and his permission. Perchik thanks his papa. Tevye asks what he will tell her mother. Perchik suggests he tell her he is going to visit a rich uncle.
At home Tevye tells Golde he has something important to tell her. She gives him soup, and he sits down. She is kneading dough, and he says he just saw Perchik and Hodel who like each other. He says he gave him his permission to be engaged. She complains he did not ask her and says he has nothing. He says he heard he has a rich uncle. He says he is a good man, and he likes him. Hodel loves him, and he asks what they can do. He says it is a new world of love. He asks Golde if she loves him, and they sing “Do You Love Mel?” She says she took care of him for 25 years and asks why he talks about love now. He says he met her on their wedding day, and his parents said they would learn to love each other. They realize that they love each other.
The cavalry in Kiev waits as Perchik gives a speech to students and workers who want a better life. He urges them to band together and join their movement. He says the winds of freedom are beginning to blow over Russia. The cavalry moves toward them and halts. They draw their swords and charge as the people run. One man waves a red flag.
Yente tells Tzeitel that her sister Hodel got a letter from Perchik, and she gives it to her. Tzeitel notices it is open.
Tevye at a train stop puts up the flag, and he waits with Hodel on a bench. He asks if her hero is in bad trouble. She admits that he was arrested and convicted, but he did nothing wrong. He says he must have done something wrong to be in trouble, but she mentions Joseph, Moses, and others. She says he is in a settlement in Siberia. He asks if he wants her to join him in that wasteland. She says he did not ask her, but she wants to go and help him in his work. Hodel sings “Far From the Home I Love” to explain why she must go. They hear the train whistle. He asks who will perform a marriage in that wilderness, and she promises that they will be married under a canopy. He figures a rabbi or two must have been arrested also. The train stops, and he puts her luggage on board. She hugs him and says only God knows when they will see each other again. He says they will leave it in his hands. She boards the train and waves goodbye as the train departs. He asks God to take care of her.
The rabbi is teaching men at a table. Avram brings news. Another man comes in and says there is good news because Motel and Tzeitel have a new arrival.
Motel tells people it is a sewing machine. He shows Tzeitel how fast and efficient it is. Golde says it is wonderful. The rabbi comes in and gives a blessing for the sewing machine. Tzeitel also has a baby boy, and Golde says Motel is a person. Motel shows them how the machine works by using his foot and his hands.
Fyedka asks Chava to let him talk to her father. Tevye is standing by a fire, and Fyedka says good afternoon to him and puts out his hand. Tevye barely takes it, and Fyedka walks away. Tevye asks her what they were talking about. She says she has known him for a long time. He tells her to be friends from a distance. He says he is a different kind of man. He asks where they would build a home together. She says the world is changing, but he says some things will never change. She says that she and Fyedka want to be married. He asks if she is out of her mind. He says no and tells her never to see him again or mention him again. She says she understands him. Golde comes out and says Tevye is finally there. He wants to see Motel’s sewing machine and does it quickly before going home with Golde.
Golde walks to a church and goes in. She asks to see the priest on a personal matter concerning her daughter. The priest with a long gray beard comes over to her.
Golde finds Tevye on the road pulling his cart. She says Chava left home and that the priest told her that she was married. He tells her to go home because they have other children at home. She cries, and he says Chava is dead to them and that they will forget her. He tells her to go and picks up his cart. As they walk in opposite directions, he puts down the cart and sings “Little Bird, Little Chavela.” Chava speaks to her father and says she has been looking for him. He turns his back and picks up the handles of his cart. She tells him to stop and asks him to listen to her. She begs him to accept them. He stops and thinks about accepting them. He asks if he can deny everything he believes in or his own daughter. He does not want to turn his back on his faith and his people. He shouts no and takes his cart. She cries as he goes.
Yente brings two boys to Golde and her two younger daughters. Yente suggests they could have their future signed and sealed. Motel comes in and asks for Tevye.
Outside the rabbi and men ask Tevye if he saw the constable. They tell him about the rumors of an edict from St. Petersburg. The constable arrives on his horse with men and asks Tevye how much time he needs to sell his house and goods. The constable says they all must leave Anatevka. The constable says he thought Tevye might be spared because of the marriage of his daughter, but he says his daughter is dead. The constable says they all have to leave. Tevye says this has always been their home, and he asks why. The constable says there is trouble in the world, and the entire district must be emptied in three days. He shows them his order. Tevye asks if he will carry out this order. The constable says they will be forced out if they refuse. Tevye tells him to get off his land while it is still his home. The constable mounts his horse, says they have three days, and leaves. The men discuss what to do, and some want to fight; but Tevye says an eye for an eye makes people blind. The rabbi says they will have to wait for the messiah somewhere else. He suggests they start packing. The men disperse. Yente says Anatevka has not been the garden of Eden. Golde, Tevye, Yente, and others sing “Anatevka.” They realize they will be strangers in a strange new place. They discuss how their forefathers have been driven out of many places.
The rabbi has packed a few books and some sacred items and leaves the synagogue.
People are walking with what they can carry. Yente tells Golde that she wants to go to the holy land. Golde tells her to go in peace. Tevye is packing things on the cart and tells Golde they have to go. He says they can visit Hodel in Siberia. She is happy even though Perchik is in prison. Golde says she has to sweep the floor so as not to leave a dirty house. Lasar tells Tevye he is going to Chicago, and Tevye says they are going to New York. They shake hands and say goodbye. Lazar gives him a hug, and Tevye smiles.
Tevye goes in the barn and says goodbye to his horse and cow saying that he sold them to someone who will take care of them. He thanks them for everything.
Outside Tzeitel sees Chava and runs to her, and they hug. Golde comes out and sees Chava. Tevye tries to ignore her as he ties down the things on the cart. Fyedka and Chava say goodbye to Tevye. She says they are leaving also and are going to Krakow. Fyedka says they could not stay in a place where they treat people like this. He says some are driven away by edicts and others by silence. Chava says goodbye to her father and mother. They walk away, and Tzeitel says goodbye to them. Tevye looks up and says, “And God be with you.” Tzeitel repeats this, and Chava says they will write to them in America. Golde says they will be staying with Uncle Avram. Tevye complains everyone will know their business. He tells Tzeitel to remember the baby. Motel and Tzeitel say goodbye to Tevye who urges him to work hard and come to them soon. Motel says he will, and they go. Tevye pulls the cart and leaves with Golde and the two younger daughters. The village has been abandoned, and the constable watches them go.
Tevye tramps in the mud with the others. They cross the bridge. The ford a river on a ferry. They stop and form a circle for a prayer. Tevye sees the fiddler and motions for him to come too as he plays.
This musical portrays a community of Jews living in Russia in a time of persecution. The old ways are changing as the daughters choose their husbands rather than accept an arranged marriage which was the tradition for centuries. Russia is becoming more oppressive as revolutionaries organize to overthrow the autocratic government. The religion and spirituality is conveyed as Tevye talks with God and attempts to follow his will even when old traditions are falling away.