"Tradition!": Bock and Harnick's Greatest Songs

News   "Tradition!": Bock and Harnick's Greatest Songs
 
Playbill.com correspondent Ben Rimalower offers a collection of the most moving songs by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick.
Jerry Bock
Jerry Bock

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The lyrics to Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick's "Anatevka" from their landmark musical, Fiddler On The Roof, are the epitome of what made their collaboration wonderful.

Anatevka, Anatevka.
Underfed, overworked Anatevka.
Where else could Sabbath be so sweet?

This juxtaposition of pain and joy in Harnick's words is so true to life and lends their songs depth and believability, beautifully fleshed out by Bock's music, which draws on Jewish and European traditions while looking forward to the 20th-century American melting pot, and is always both well-suited to both the context of the show and the ear of the audience.

Sheldon Harnick
Sheldon Harnick Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Of course, this artistic excellence is reflected in the monumental success of Fiddler On The Roof, one of Broadway's longest-running musicals and still today one of the most produced pieces of work in the world, with no sign of slowing down. There's even talk of a forthcoming Broadway revival. Whispers on the Rialto point to the great Danny Burstein for Tevye, who would be a dream in the role. Sadly, Bock and Harnick only collaborated on a handful of musicals before ending their partnership (and Bock died in 2010), but what they did accomplish together made a lasting impact.

Click through to read my selections for the Top 13 Bock and Harnick Songs.

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13. "Far From The Home I Love" from Fiddler On The Roof

Tevye the milkman has five daughters and his second oldest, Hodel, confounds him by falling in love with Perchik, a student revolutionary. The pair informs him they will get married without his permission and Tevye eventually relents, giving them his blessing (and his permission, he insists!). When Perchik's activism gets him exiled to Siberia, Hodel joins him while singing this aching ode to the place she leaves behind. The song is classic Bock and Harnick — sad as it is, there's a lilting quality, particularly in the final, determined verse (Hodel is going where she wants to go, after all).

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12. "Tonight At Eight" from She Loves Me

Bock and Harnick's 1963 musical, She Loves Me (with a book by Joe Masteroff), is often called a perfect musical. Its sophisticated wit, well-crafted plot (taken from the Hungarian play Parfumerie by Miklos Laszlo — (also the basis for the films "You've Got Mail," "The Shop Around The Corner" and "In The Good Old Summertime") — and tuneful, charming score have aged gracefully, making it a favorite among audiences and theatre insiders alike. A great asset is the quirky near neurosis of its characters, which makes them specific and relatably human. A wonderful example is Georg's song about his jitters before his first date with his lonely-hearts club pen pal.

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11. "Miracle of Miracles" from Fiddler On The Roof

In the trifecta of challenging disappointments Tevye faces with his daughters' marriages, the decision of Tzeitel, his eldest, to marry Motel, the poor tailor (as opposed to the wealthy butcher, Lazar Wolf, to whom her match has been pre-arranged), is a relatively minor conflict. When it happens in Act One of the show, however, we are invested in the dilemma and Motel's overwhelming joy at its resolution is expressed thrillingly in this song.

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10. "A Trip To The Library" from She Loves Me

Ilona in She Loves Me is unlucky in love until she visits the library, and this hilarious and sweet monologue set to music provides a delightful description of her game-changing trip. The storytelling is so smart and insightful in the way it uses "dumb blonde" humor without making Ilona less compelling or multi-dimensional that it would be welcome even without the delightful music.

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9. "Tevye's Dream" from Fiddler On The Roof

In order to sell his wife on the aforementioned engagement switch of their eldest daughter, Tevye claims to have had an elaborately concocted dream which is brought to vivid, theatrical life in this extended musical sequence. Even the throw-away little melodic moments are given musical material worthy of an entire song. This is first class-musical theatre, absolutely as good as it gets.

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8. "Will He Like Me?" from She Loves Me

I was unsure whether to include this ballad Amalia sings in She Loves Me before her date, or the ballad she sings waiting for him to show up ("Dear Friend"). I chose this one by a narrow margin because of its universality — venn-diagramtically speaking, more people prepare for dates than get stood up by them… Still, both songs set longing, hoping and insecurity to redolent music and lyrics.

Harvey Fierstein and Andrea Martin in <i>Fiddler on the Roof</i>
Harvey Fierstein and Andrea Martin in Fiddler on the Roof Photo by Joan Marcus

7. "Do You Love Me?" from Fiddler On The Roof

A song in Fiddler On The Roof that lingers in listeners' minds is this Act Two duet for Tevye and his wife, Golde. The heart and the humor resonate for long-term relationships everywhere. As with all Bock and Harnick, there is the sour mixed right in with the sweet, a duality extremely useful to the love/hate ("Sorry Grateful" for you Sondheim fans) aspect of marriage.

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6. "Artificial Flowers" from Tenderloin

This story song from Bock and Harnick's 1960 musical Tenderloin became a major hit for Bobby Darin in 1960 (reaching #20 on the Billboard Hot 100) and remains a cherished standard today. Alt-cabaret rising star Molly Pope recently proved the song's equal strength sung by a woman.

5. "Matchmaker, Matchmaker" from Fiddler On The Roof

Another Fiddler favorite, this trio for Tevye's older daughters, Tzeitel, Hodel and Chava, is the perfect classic musical theatre "I want" song, set to a bouncy waltz and catchy words of delightful aspiration. In fact, it also accomplishes everything that could be asked of a typical ingenue love ballad (in the vein of "Goodnight, My Someone" from The Music Man) without losing any of that zippy verve. For extra pleasure, check out this video of the number from the 1968 Tony Awards when Bette Midler had taken over the role of Tzeitel!

Laura Michelle Kelly, Lea Michele, Molly Ephraim, Sally Murphy and Tricia Paoluccio
Laura Michelle Kelly, Lea Michele, Molly Ephraim, Sally Murphy and Tricia Paoluccio Photo by Carol Rosegg
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4. "When Did I Fall In Love?" from Fiorello!

One of the great, ingénue ballads in musical theatre, "When Did I Fall In Love?" holds its own among the work of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Jerome Kern and George Gershwin. Like all Bock and Harnick, the lyrics are conversational and believable as in-the-moment thoughts, and yet they have the gravitas and meaning of well-considered verse. And the melody maintains a pulsing drive even as it soars.

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3. "Ice Cream" from She Loves Me

One of the most beloved songs in musical theatre and a signature of its originator, legendary leading lady Barbara Cook, is the tour de force "Ice Cream." The conflicting moods and ideas the words extrapolate are brought to thrilling musical life over several octaves of virtuoso vocals.

Zero Mostel
Zero Mostel

2. "If I Were A Rich Man" from Fiddler On The Roof

Did somebody say "I want song"? Perhaps the greatest one in all of musical theatre is Tevye's passionate fantasy of the life he wishes he had. This showstopper never fails to please as the desire for more is something with which we all can sympathize, even if our expressions of it make for less sublime entertainment.

Zero Mostel
Zero Mostel

1. "Tradition" from Fiddler On The Roof

If it seems as if I've listed so many songs from Fiddler On The Roof merely because of the small number of musicals Bock and Harnick wrote, make no mistake: Each of these songs would stand out even on a list of thousands. Surely, the greatest example of Bock and Harnick's brilliance and the greatest example of an opening number is this exciting number which envelops the audience in the world of Fiddler On The Roof.

(Ben Rimalower is the author and original star of the critically acclaimed Patti Issues, currently on a worldwide tour. His new solo play, Bad with Money, performs through Dec. 18 at The Duplex in NYC. Read Playbill's coverage of the show here. Visit him at benrimalower.com and follow @benrimalower on Twitter.)

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