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“To Life! Celebrating 50 years of Fiddler on the Roof“ with Sheldon Harnick” at 92 Y Lyrics & Lyricists

L-R: Ross Lekites, Alan Schmuckler Jonathan Hadary, Antoine Silverman on violin, Judy Blazer,  Leah Horowitz Kerry Conte                   photos Richard. Termine

                                              by Linda Amiel Burns

Artistic Director Rob Fisher notes “a work of art is a work of genius when the subject is so specific that it bursts into universality.” Well, the show Fiddler on the Roof has a universal theme that everyone relates to, that of family and traditions. It is the work of several geniuses that all came together to create one of the best shows of the musical theater that is celebrating its 50th Anniversary.  Producer Hal Prince believed in the project that was based on stories of Sholom Aleichem, the team of Jerry Bock (music) and Sheldon Harnick (lyrics) worked on the score and Joe Stein wrote the book.  However, it was when another genius choreographer/director Jerry Robbins came on board that the show really began to take shape.

Legendary lyricist Sheldon Harnick was a guest in the first season of L & L in 1971, participated in nearly two dozen programs and this is his 7th collaboration with Rob Fisher.  What a treat to listen to the great Sheldon Harnick host “To Life! Celebrating 50 years of Fiddler on the Roof” and discuss the processes and decisions which resulted in the final score and how this iconic show came to be. He and Jerry Bock composed nearly 50 songs and only about one third of them were used.  The terrific cast of Judy Blazer, Kerry Conte, Jonathan Hadary, Leah Horowitz, Ross Lekits and Alan Schmukler performed many of the songs that were changed, given to other characters and/or were ultimately cut from the show.  Rob Fisher led the band of remarkable musicians, which included Antoine Silverman on violin, Andrew Sterman on clarinet, Dick Sarpola on bass, Erik Charlston on percussion and all smoothly directed by Gary Griffin.

Judy, Kerry & Leah sang the original opening song for the show as Golde and her daughters prepared for the Sabbath singing “We’ve Never Missed a Sabbath Yet.”  This was cut and “Tradition” was used to open the show.  The song for Lazar Wolf “A Butcher’s Soul” was a favorite at backer’s auditions, but was cut when Jerry Robbins said that the emphasis should be on Tevye and not the butcher.

 Jonathan sang Tevye’s clever song about his horse “That’s Life!” that was also eliminated. “Now I Have Everything” originally assigned to Motel when he gets permission to marry Tzeitel, went to Perchik, the Revolutionary. Motel was given the joyful and exuberant “Miracle of Miracles.” When Leah sang “Somehow The Time Will Pass,” as Hodel, the lyrics didn’t match the melody that we knew.  Then we found out that the lyrics were changed and became the moving “Far From The Home I Love” performed by Kerry.

Judy & Jonathan sang “Dear, Sweet Sewing Machine” another favorite which was cut in Detroit. The director realized that the story of Motel and Tzeitel had been told and this song didn’t work bringing them back at that time.  It was fascinating to hear the inside stories about the creation of the show and the hard decisions that have to be made from the brilliant Sheldon Harnick who wrote the fine script, sharing his personal memories.  He is articulate, sings beautifully and has a terrific sense of humor. After Kerry & Leah sang a “Matchmaker Reprise” as the two youngest daughters (ages 10 & 11), Sheldon wondered why it had not been used as it was quite good. 

“Any Day Now” was written for the 1971 film for Perchik played by Paul Michael Glaser who had a limited vocal range.  At the screening Sheldon told director Norman Jewison that he was disappointed in the way the song was sung, so instead of dubbing another voice, the song was cut as the movie was running long. Ross perfomed a terrific rendition of this powerful song.

Zero Mostel, the original Tevya loved the song “When Messiah Comes” that Sheldon and the cast performed, and fought to keep it in, but ultimately it was cut.  “Anatevka” with different lyrics was once paired with “Letters From America” and was in another part of the show.  “Letters” was gone; lyrics changed to “Anatevka” and this haunting song was sung at the end of the show as the people are forced to leave their beloved town.

The last song was a surprise, a song entitled “Fiddler on the Roof” that was written after the show was a hit for a recording and the lyrics are to the tune of “Tradition.” Sheldon said that it was the first time it was performed on stage and that it might never be heard again.

This has been a remarkable season of Lyrics & Lyricists, but it doesn’t get any better than this program with Sheldon Harnick, being able to hear these wonderful stories “straight from the horse’s mouth.” Rob Fisher said “I am pleased to help Sheldon recount the decision-making journey, and so grateful to him for presenting the amazing unsung Fiddler he still loves and the world deserves to hear.”  We are grateful to Rob Fisher and everyone involved in bringing this one-of-a-kind concert to the 92Y and “grateful that a series like Lyrics & Lyricists was able to have the story told.”

The 2016 Season “Inside The American Songbook” has been announced.  For more information, Visit: or call:

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92Y Announces Lyrics & Lyricists™ 2016 Season

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Single Tickets on sale August 3



Kathleen Marshall, Artistic Director & Host



James Naughton, Artistic Director & Host



Billy Stritch, Artistic Director & Host



Ted Sperling, Artistic Director & Host



Ted Chapin & Bill Rudman, Co-Artistic Directors & Hosts

Deborah Grace Winer, Series Artistic Director