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Wonder of Wonders: A Cultural History of…

Wonder of Wonders: A Cultural History of Fiddler on the Roof

by Alisa Solomon

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I enjoyed reading the first half of this look at the origins of Fiddler on the Roof, but got bogged down and never finished it. ( )
  fuzzi | Dec 20, 2015 |
A historical tracing of how and why fiddler on the roof is and was so important. Gives background information which the ordinary play goer and reader may not be privy to. This is a must read for anyone interested in the culture of "the people".
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  cm37107 | Mar 5, 2015 |
Engaging and intelligent look at the Jewish musical to end all Jewish musicals. Solomon not only provides invaluable background on the Sholem Aleichem stories that inspired "Fiddler" and the creation of the play, but discusses the various cultural resonances that the original Broadway show and subsequent productions, including the film version, sought to evoke. (I guess it makes sense that the same story could be made to look back to a romanticized vision of the shetl and to look forward to the future of the tough-minded sabra. After all, this *is* the religion that produced the joke, "Two Jews, three opinions"!) Solomon's text is full of details but (at least for me) was still easy to follow, and as a longtime fan of "Fiddler" I found the subject matter fascinating. In fact, I think my rating has gone up a star in the process of writing this review! ( )
  bostonian71 | Jan 26, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Alisa Solomon's richly detailed Wonder of Wonders ; A Cultural History of Fiddler on the Roof (New York : Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt, 2013), tells the tale of how the now iconic Broadway musical grew from stories by Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem (born Sholom Rabinowitz in Pereyeslav, Russian Ukraine, in 1859) about Tevye the Milkman and his daughters in their village in nineteenth-century Czarist Russia, living with the continuing challenge of maintaining religious and cultural traditions. From the first story, 'Tevye Strikes It Rich' (1894) to the opening of the musical itself in 1964, and several revivals (1976, 1981, 1990), the shaping of Jewish tradition within tradition is the triumph of this book. ( )
  chuck_ralston | Dec 31, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
The story of Tevye, the milkman from Anatevka, is known all over the world, but not many know that he first became well known decades before "Fiddler on the Roof" hit the Broadway stage or the big screen. In "Wonder of Wonders: A Cultural History of Fiddler on the Roof" by Alisa Solomon, we learn of his origins in the simple yet beloved stories written by Sholem-Aleichem (meaning "Peace unto you" or, more colloquially, "How do you do?"), the pen name of Solomon Naumovich Rabinovich (1859-1916). His upbringing in his Ukrainian shetl provided many of the characters he would go on to write about. This is not the story of "Fiddler on the Roof", instead it is a captivating and informative look at Jewish theater, Yiddish heritage, and how one man almost singlehandedly provided a culture with immense pride of a history that was in danger of slipping away.

Tevye is a good and proud man, he loves his family, and he is especially gratified by the rich history of his ancestors. Unfortunately, all that may be lost due to war and bigotry. His daughters defy him and some in his village consider him old-fashioned. He loves tradition but knows that in order to move forward, some things must change. All of this is what endeared the character of Tevye to the readers of the Jewish weekly newspapers beginning in 1883. He was a part of the old brought into the new and that sense of belonging that was missing in their daily lives. Sholem-Aleichem was looking for a way to not only put food on the table and a roof over the head of his family, but also a way to preserve the past. If it also made people laugh, then even better. His stories made him famous and relatively rich. He toured the U.S. telling his Tevye stories to much acclaim. Around 1910 he had the idea of creating a play that featured his hero. His plays continued to be performed into the late 1950's to packed houses.

In 1961 three men, music writer Jerry Bock, lyricist Sheldon Harnick, and playwright Joseph Stein, met to discuss the possibility of a musical based on the Tevye stories. That inauspicious meeting was the beginning of what became the phenomenal "Fiddler on the Roof". The director Jerome Robbins was chosen to bring the story and songs to life. Although he had reservations about the story it ultimately meant more to him than he could ever know. Robbins is shown to be a somewhat maniacal director, micromanaging set and costume design, choreography, and storyline to the point of madness and in spite of this the first Broadway production is a rousing success.

The author spends little time discussing the movie adaption of the play and, seemingly instead, spends a great deal of time showing how the Broadway show and at least one amateur production across the country have caused such social discord that law enforcement was sometimes required. Not many people think of "Fiddler" as a social and political hot potato but through the authors extensive research, it appears that it really is. As a predominantly African-American school in Brooklyn prepared their production, a local (and hastily organized) Jewish group became outraged that "their" story was being told by non-Jewish actors (even though they were pre-teen at the time). That's how much this show means culturally even to this day.

So many different aspects of this simple story are covered in this book that it is almost impossible to list them. Who knew that Tevye could be so universal and complicated?

"Wonder of Wonders" is an excellent look at not only the history of Jewish theater as it relates to Jewish culture and how important it is to keep any traditions alive. Highly recommended to anyone interested in musical theater, Jewish social and cultural history via the writings of Sholem-Aleichem, and the many, many fans of "Fiddler on the Roof".

As an interesting side note: Through reading more about Sholem-Aleichem, I discovered that his granddaughter, Bel Kaufman, wrote "Up the Down Staircase". The tradition of writing continued! ( )
1 vote TheFlamingoReads | Dec 1, 2013 |
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But from its opening in 1964 until today, sometimes by design and often by accident, Fiddler takes on an inordinate cultural utility that no other musical sustains. (p. 230)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0805092609, Hardcover)

A sparkling and eye-opening history of the Broadway musical that changed the world

In the half-century since its premiere, Fiddler on the Roof has had an astonishing global impact. Beloved by audiences the world over, performed from rural high schools to grand state theaters, Fiddler is a supremely potent cultural landmark.

In a history as captivating as its subject, award-winning drama critic Alisa Solomon traces how and why the story of Tevye the milkman, the creation of the great Yiddish writer Sholem-Aleichem, was reborn as blockbuster entertainment and a cultural touchstone, not only for Jews and not only in America. It is a story of the theater, following Tevye from his humble appearance on the New York Yiddish stage, through his adoption by leftist dramatists as a symbol of oppression, to his Broadway debut in one of the last big book musicals, and his ultimate destination—a major Hollywood picture.

Solomon reveals how the show spoke to the deepest conflicts and desires of its time: the fraying of tradition, generational tension, the loss of roots. Audiences everywhere found in Fiddler immediate resonance and a usable past, whether in Warsaw, where it unlocked the taboo subject of Jewish history, or in Tokyo, where the producer asked how Americans could understand a story that is “so Japanese.”

Rich, entertaining, and original, Wonder of Wonders reveals the surprising and enduring legacy of a show about tradition that itself became a tradition.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:06 -0400)

A revelatory history of the influential Broadway musical production explores its considerable international impact and how it has become a powerful cultural landmark on both professional and amateur stages throughout the world.

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