Friday, September 22nd 2023   |

Sheldon Harnick, z”l

Sheldon Harnick, lyricist of Fiddler on the RoofFiorello!, and other Broadway shows, died last week at the age of 99. Harnick and composer Jerry Bock wrote many songs for Fiddler on the Roof which did not end up in the final version of the show, including “We’ve Never Missed a Sabbath Yet,” which was originally planned as the opening number. Director Jerome Robbins kept pushing the writers for something which would better tell what the show was about.

Lyricist Sheldon Harnick circa 1995. (Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

At one point Harnick said with great frustration, “Oh, for God’s sake Jerry, it’s about tradition!” To which Robbins responded, “That’s it! That’s what [it’s] about. Write the opening number.”

What other song written by Harnick and Bock did not meet with the approval of director Robbins and was cut from the show?

A. Prior to the writing of the song Anatevka, which comes at the end of Fiddler on the Roof as Tevye’s family and others lament leaving their village, there was another song that was proposed. The title was “The Exodus,” where each character sang about where they were going (to Israel, to stay with Uncle Avram in America, etc.). The chorus of the song included the lines, “When Israel was in Egypt Land/You led us through the desert sand/To Yisrael, the promised land/Now once again, please guide our hand.” But Jerome Robbins decided that it would be better to focus on where and what they were leaving rather than where they were going.

B. When Lazar Wolf met with Tevye to ask him for his daughter Tzeitel’s hand in marriage, Tevye replied, “Why should I give my daughter to a coarse, crude, butcher? A man like you, a man with no soul?” Lazar Wolf responded, singing a song titled “A Butcher’s Soul.” But Jerome Robbins decided that this scene needed to focus on Tevye, not Lazar Wolf.

C. At the end of Fiddler on the Roof, as everyone prepares to leave Anatevka, Tevye refuses to acknowledge his daughter Chava and her Russian husband Fyedka. Fyedka says to Tevye, “Some are driven away by edicts, others by silence.” Originally, Harnock and Bock wrote a short response to Fyedka that Tevye sang, including the lyrics “Chava has fled from us/Chava is dead to us,” reprising his words about Chava when Golde first told him she had married Fyedka. But Jerome Robbins felt that the verse was too harsh, and he replaced it with Tevye’s simple statement, “God be with you.”

D.If I Were A Woman,” a duet featuring Perchik and Hodel, was a song in which the two were arguing, but clearly showed they were attracted to each other. Jerome Robbins cut the song, saying, “…the show is too long. And I can accomplish the same thing in 30 seconds of dance.”

E. Though Tevye had five daughters, the play focused on the relationships of the oldest three–Tzeitel with Motel Kamzoil, Hodel with Perchik, and Chava with Fyedka. Early in its production, the show featured a duet sung by the two youngest daughters, Shprintze and Bielke, complaining that they were being ignored. The song, entitled “What Are We, Chopped Liver?” was cut, because, yes, in the grand scheme of things, they were chopped liver.

Click here for the answer.

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