A Classic Tale of Matchmaking and Marriage

Hillel stages traditional production of musical Fiddler on the Roof

This weekend, in the spirit of tradition, the Hillel Drama Society is producing Fiddler on the Roof, a play showcasing the conflict between tradition and modernity.

Set in early 20th-century Anatevka, a small town in the Russian Pale—the region where many Jews were confined under Russian czarist rule—Fiddler tells the story of Tevye the milkman and his five daughters. With music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick and a book by Joseph Stein, the 1960s musical is based on a story by writer Sholom Aleichem.

In the course of the show the daughters marry one by one. But their marriages are doubly difficult for Tevye—he must not only give up his daughters, but must give each away in unfamiliar ways.

The traditional world of marriages arranged by matchmakers is a part of life in Anatevka; the daughters’ deviation from that tradition presents a challenge to the old order, according to director Rachel D. Galper ’05.

“[Fiddler] is about traditions, values that are instilled from parents to children and how children must choose between the lives their parents choose for them and their own desires,” Galper says. “These are issues that we can all relate to regardless of ethnic or religious affiliation.”


The characters in the musical are intentionally stereotypical—their actions reach across the stage to audiences of different backgrounds and generations.

Tevye (Kenneth P. Herrera ’03) is a doting but distant father who ultimately wants to please everyone. When Herrera dons the traditional garb of the Anatevka milkman, his booming, benevolent voice sings a song for all fathers trying to protect daughters from the changing world.

Similarly, the poor tailor Motel (Andrew S. Obus ’03) is a hardworking, pure-hearted and clear-eyed young man who struggles to pull himself up by his bootstraps and win the girl he loves. Though Motel himself desperately wants to save money for a sewing machine, he represents the classic image of a young man accomplishing his greatest desire thanks to his pure, noble and determined—if timid—character.

The town of Anatevka is full of such archetypal characters: the meddling matchmaker, the rich, unsavory butcher and the wise Rabbi. They deliver wisdom, laughs and song throughout Fiddler.

This whimsical combination requires an extremely integrated ensemble, and Harvard’s cast delivers, according to producer Daniel A. Spitzer ’05.

“At rehearsals, I mostly find myself watching the show with an incredibly cheesy smile on my face,” he says. “One of the greatest things is the dynamic among the cast. There is a great energy possessed by the cast that they project from onstage.”

Although the staging of the age-old musical is fairly traditional, Galper says she chose to emphasize Fiddler’s emotional turbulence.

“My direction has played up the comedic characters, making them somewhat more slapstick and exaggerated, while making the intense scenes wrought with a bit more pain and anger than is often seen in Fiddler,” she says.

Galper says her appeal to emotion also ensures that Fiddler’s message reaches its audience despite the production’s 19th-century trappings. The play’s human conflict, sandwiched as it is with song and dance, leaves the audience remembering more than the melodies as the curtain falls.

“I hope people will leave the theater humming the show tunes and in a happy mood, but I also hope that it will stir some level of emotion, some spark of, ‘I better call my dad and find out how he’s doing,’” Galper says.

—Fiddler on the Roof runs until Saturday in Agassiz Theatre.

—Staff writer Julie S. Greenberg can be reached at