Fiddler on the Roof premiered on Broadway in 1964, proving that an nontraditional musical about an Eastern European shtetl family being wrenched apart by the struggle over tradition and fears of the next pogrom could play to massive audiences. It still does today.
Last year marked the 50th anniversary of its first production in Japan. Since then it has become that country’s most popular American musical.
Joseph Stein, who wrote the book for Fiddler—stitching together the musical’s characters and themes from the work of Sholem Aleichem—remembered bringing the show to Japan in 1967. He had this incredible exchange about the universality of some works of art:
Japan was the first non-English production and I was very nervous about how it would be received in a completely foreign environment. I got there just during the rehearsal period and the Japanese producer asked me, “Do they understand this show in America?” And I said, “Yes, of course, we wrote it for America. Why do you ask?” And he said, “Because it’s so Japanese”…