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In fact, the fictional shtetl’s resemblance to real places began to seem irrelevant as it traveled the world, in international productions and onscreen in Norman Jewison’s 1971 film adaptation. Clearly, it wasn’t just Jews who longed for Anatevka: When “Fiddler” arrived in Tokyo, Solomon writes, the producer wondered how Americans could make sense of a story that was “so Japanese.”
And one of Solomon’s most moving chapters concerns a junior high production of ”Fiddler” in Brownsville, Brooklyn, during a teachers’ union strike over integration and community control of public schools. This “Fiddler” featured black and Latino preteens in the lead roles at a time when black-Jewish tensions in the neighborhood had reached an all-time high. And yet its cast members echoed one original Broadway chorister’s ardent declaration that, while working on the show, they came “to love our village.”
“It helped me to embrace all these different people,” one Brownsville actor recalled. “Including myself.”
One of the first audience members to make it backstage after the first night of “Fiddler” on Broadway in 1964 was Robbins’ father, who threw his arms around his son and and wept, asking, “How did you know all that?” Solomon’s book is a chronicle of the many ways in which so many of us have asked — and attempted to answer — that same question ever since.
Eileen Reynolds writes frequently about the arts for the Forward.