September 22, 2014 marks the
50th anniversary of the first Broadway performance of Fiddler on
But first, in August, Jan Lisa Huttner will present her
new lecture on the musical. The talk will be part of Chicago YIVO Society's 2014
Summer Festival of Yiddish Culture. (Light Opera Works, in Evanston, also is
staging a revival in August to honor the musical's milestone.)
Fiddler: From Grodna to Brooklyn" is her sixth annual presentation on
the subject, she says, "The topic is: Why has all this mattered so much to me?"
She will explain her personal reasons for spending so many years transfixed by
all the sources, synergies, and subtle nuances of this great theatrical
Her previous talks have covered the female characters in the
story, like Yente and Hodel, and the musical's choreographer, Jerome Robbins.
She has also covered the musical extensively on her blog, Second City
Tzivi (titled after her Hebrew name), as well as JUF News and
She explains her lecture's subtitle, "From Grodna to
Brooklyn" by-how else-telling a story. "That's what my Bubbie used to say when
I'd ask, 'Where are you from, Bubbie?' She'd reply, 'I was born in Grodna in
Russia-Poland.' That always made me laugh. Where is that? Since this is
my personal story, I'd like to stick with 'Grodna,'" she adds, noting that it
has been spelled every way from "Grodno" to "Hrodna" over the centuries.
Huttner's interest was sparked, she says, not by the stories themselves, but
by Chagall's painting of a fiddler on a roof, titled The Green
Musician. She began to investigate all aspects of the
Fiddler story, from early Yiddish films, to the stage musical and the
movie version thereof… from the source, Shalom Aleichem's Tevye stories, to the
author's own life.
She is especially mindful of the differences between
the short story, stage, and film versions, noting how they shift the story's
focus on various characters and even its overall message. For one, Huttner
asserts that the main character is not Tevye, whom she relegates to narrator
status, but his daughter Hodel, who is "the only one to leave Anatevka, and is
not driven out." For another difference, Yente is not even in the original
stories. Her conclusion? "There is no one Fiddler."
remarks on the events in the world, especially the Jewish world, during the
various incarnations of the story. The 1939 Yiddish film version, for instance,
was released "in the shadow of Kristallnacht." Further, the Tevye stories
themselves reflect the changes in the life and times of their author. The eight
stories are published together now, but were in fact written over a span of 20
Huttner notes that she has been studying Fiddler for 15
years now, reading everything from performance reviews to scholarly analyses to
biographies of all major artists involved. Not surprisingly, she notes that her
own perceptions of the tale have changed over time, due to events in her own
life and deepening familiarity with the plot, characters, and background. She
summarizes this revelation by quoting the movie itself: "The more I looked, the
more I saw."
"MyFiddler: From Grodna to
Brooklyn" will be given three times: on Aug. 13 at the Northbrook
Public Library; on Aug. 14 at the Harold Washington Library; and Aug. 19 at the
Wilmette Public Library. Huttner blogs on Fiddler and other Jewish
films at http://secondcitytzivi.com/.