‘Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles’ pays tribute to Broadway

“Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles” is available in theaters now.

“Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles” is available in theaters now.

Contributed photo

For anyone who has cherished “Fiddler on the Roof” on stage or screen, the new documentary “Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles” offers a fascinating look at why this musical has touched so many lives for so many years.

Reaching into the Broadway archives, “Miracles” tells several stories during its economical 90-minute running time. We learn about the original stories of Sholom Aleichem who in the early 1960s inspired Broadway veterans Joseph Stein (book), Jerry Bock (music) and Sheldon Harnick (lyrics) to write a musical that (before it opened) few considered to have strong commercial appeal. We sense the concerns from producer Harold Prince, who recently died at age 91, as well as expressions of the show’s potential from observer Stephen Sondheim who had worked with “Fiddler” director Jerome Robbins on “West Side Story.” Plus we hear from cast members of the film version, from 1971, including Chaim Topol and Rosalind Harris. Together they paint a picture of a musical that used its love for song and dance to fill many a theater with a magical belief in the power of community.

What makes “Fiddler on the Roof” so special — as a documentary and a musical — is how the show reaches beyond the specifics in its narrative to teach so many essential lessons. We don’t have to be Russian or Jewish, dairy farmers or fathers, to identify with the yearnings of people who simply want to hang on to traditions they savor. As a musical, “Fiddler” thrills with its seamless transition from drama to comedy, dialogue to dance, no matter if the staging is on a theater in New York or a community playhouse anywhere in the world. As a documentary, “Miracles” reminds us how magic on stage can emerge when dedicated artists feel inspired to create fulfilling evenings in the theater.

Of course, what makes any documentary shine is the scope of its content. This look at “Fiddler” dazzles with the range of its interview subjects, from faces we recognize to those we may have never seen, all sharing personal memories of moments they cannot forget. We hear veteran actor Austin Pendleton, the original Motel the tailor in the Broadway production, recall when he was disciplined by Jerome Robbins, while Topol, who was Oscar nominated for playing Tevye on film, recalls his emotional reaction to filming the scene at a remote railway station where the character says goodbye to his daughter. “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda remembers his personal connections to the musical while Joel Grey, who directed the current revival of the musical in Yiddish, describes the lasting power of the show. And, in a touching segment, actor Michael Bernardi, who followed in the footsteps of his father Herschel by playing Tevye on Broadway, revisits the actual town of Anatevka, where the story is set. Supplementing these commentaries are rich excerpts from various productions of “Fiddler” over the years.

As the film shares, “Fiddler” the musical has been performed somewhere in the world every day since the show opened on Broadway in 1964. Thank goodness for the creators behind the musical, and the makers of this documentary, for reminding us how special an evening in the theater can be, no matter the time, no matter the place.

“Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles” is rated PG for “some thematic elements/disturbing images.” The film runs 89 minutes.

Film Nutritional Value: “Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles”

Content: High. As the film reaches into the impact of this legendary musical, it celebrates how a show can continue to touch so many people.

Entertainment: High. With well-placed reminders of the magic of "Fiddler" on stage and screen, the documentary makes us appreciate, again, what this musical can mean.

Message: High. Anyone who enjoys Broadway musicals, and savors nostalgic looks at the past, will enjoy the new insights the film offers.

Relevance: Medium. Any opportunity to share such Broadway magic with your children is always welcome.

Opportunity for Dialogue: Medium. You and your children can enjoy sharing this film for its entertainment as well as an opportunity to spend time with one of the great shows we have known.