Here’s Why You Have to Binge-Watch Julie James’ Fan Fare Before the Fiddler Revival
July 27th, 2015
by Julie James
There’s a good chance Julie James is doing the lord’s work as program director of SiriusXM’s On Broadway channel (all showtunes all the time!) and host of Broadway Names with Julie James and the Stage17 program Fan Fare, which reunites OBCers from beloved B’way musicals.
Fan Fare is a must for B’way fans—die-hard or newbie, alike—because these actors are reuniting after decades apart to share their personal memories and secret anecdotes, and season two was all about the nine-time Tony-winning musical Fiddler on the Roof.
It’s four 10-minute episodes featuring Fiddler lyricist Sheldon Harnick, the original Motel, Austin Pendleton, and the original Tzeitel, Joanna Merlin. Binge-watch all at once or spread it out, but def. watch before Bart Sher’s highly-anticipated Fiddler revival this fall.
Below, Julie James shares with BroadwayBox 10 moments from the Fiddler Fan Fare reunion that left her in shock and awe.
1. I know there are so many legendary Jerome Robbins audition stories but Austin had six auditions and Joanna had eight—she went in eight times! Apparently Jerome was an audition fiend. Austin was seen first for Perchik, which he was really excited about, and when that changed Jerry [Robbins] told him that he was completely reconceiving the role of Motel around him now that he knew Austin was going to do it.
2. Similarly, Joanna Merlin said Jerry was fixated on her being Hodel at first. They kept seeing her and kept seeing her, and she was an incredible actress but as Sheldon says, “That voice.” (Because she kept singing in her soprano as Hodel.) So Jerry Robbins goes to her voice lesson with her and she sings “Irma La Douce” in her chest voice and he says, “That's it! Go in and sing in your chest voice.” And then comes one of the best sound bites in the entire series: “Sheldon, can I ask you a question? I’ve wanted to ask you this for 50 years.” Then Joanna asked, “Why did no one think to ask me to sing in my chest voice?” Because once she did it was a lock for Tzeitel.
3. There are a lot of out of town stories that are pretty great because they almost didn’t make it. Fiddler on the Roof almost died out of town. They hadn’t sold a single ticket for the final week or two of their run in one city, and when the finally got to Detroit, there was a newspaper strike and they couldn’t get any reviews. No press was trickling into New York. Then Variety sent someone and it wasn't a great review, and it so it didn't look good. The show was over three hours long, and Sheldon said people would just get up and leave but they would walk up the aisle still facing the stage, so it was a good sign for Fiddler.
4. Jerome Robbins was almost fired because of all the trouble out of town. Austin tells the story in the second episode that he got a call from his agent that Jerry Robbins was going to be fired, and the big question was, if not Robbins then who is going to fix this? Because it was Jerry who was known to come in late in the game and fix shows. They said George Abbott was the replacement name floating.
5. Austin tells a story how after one of the shows they go to the local watering hole and Jerry is alone at the bar so he went up to him and says, “Jerry, what are we going to do?” And Jerry said, “10 things a day.” And I thought that was really profound. That’s basically what saved it. They put in their work, and they put in 10 things a day to improve it, and that was a real turning point.
6. Zero Mostel thought it would close as soon as he left, but it ran for another six years.
7. Sheldon has this great moment where he says that, “Fiddler is about people, who happen to be Jewish.” They made it beyond the Hadassah groups and Zero because it’s a show about people. You don't have to be Jewish to understand this show.
8. Sheldon also says there is a quote Hal Prince has attributed to him that, “Fiddler is about a changing of the way of life, and it’s about traditions.” And that was the springboard for the song “Tradition”. And Jerry got fired up and said, “I know how to begin and end the show now.”
9. Mostel was an enigma because he had a terrible temper. Joanna tells the story how they are in DC and her husband came to visit and took her to dinner between shows. At the evening performance, they were on stage for the end and she’s saying goodbye Papa, and he apparently whispered to her, “Never eat garlic before a show.” It took her out of this heartwrenching moment, and she was furious with him. As soon as the curtain call came down, Zero abraded her in front of everybody. But they also told stories of him spending all day off stage in his painting studio; it was the place he was completely different.
10. Sheldon wrote “Do You Love Me” because of his parents. They fought all the time, and he wished it was something they said to each other.
'Fiddler on the Roof' begins performances at the Broadway Theatre on November 12, and 'Fan Fare' can be seen anytime on Stage17.com