ASK PLAYBILL.COM: A Question About the Choreography in Fiddler on the Roof

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20 Sep 2012

Jerome Robbins' indelible, tribal choreography for Fiddler on the Roof is evident in productions around the world. Why is that?

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Question: Every time I see a production of Fiddler on the Roof, they use the same choreography. Is this a requirement for obtaining the rights to the show? — Gregg Yonekura, Bonita, CA



With the possible exception of the fancy footwork in West Side Story, the choreography that Jerome Robbins created for the 1964 Jerry Bock-Sheldon Harnick-Joseph Stein musical Fiddler on the Roof was probably the most iconic of his career. Who can forget the bottle dance at the wedding of Tzietel and Motel? The raucous celebration between the shtetl Jews and Russian youths in the town tavern during the number "To Life"? Tevye's lusty shimmying throughout "If I Were a Rich Man"?

The answer is: no one can forget it. And not just because the original production was so memorable and ran for so many years; or because the musical was made into a widely seen film. No, the main reason Robbins' work will not fade with time is because every time the show is remounted — and that's dozens of times, throughout the U.S. and the world, every year — the same Robbins choreography is featured.

The rights to Fiddler on the Roof are controlled by Music Theatre International. We asked Jason Cocovinis, MTI director of marketing and promotions, if people who license the property are required to recreate Robbins' work.

"Yes, there is indeed required choreography for performing Fiddler on the Roof," said Cocovinis. "As part of the performance license, Fidder comes with a 'Choreographic Guide' which preserves choreographer-director Jerome Robbins' original staging. The idea is that Jerome Robbins' staging is integral to the fabric of the show and does not exist separately from the book, lyrics and score. Fiddler is one of the only MTI shows that has this requirement."

Robbins' work is also preserved in other shows he worked on. According to Cocovinis, "For professional-level productions of West Side Story, many theatres are required to use the Robbins choreography, however it is not a requirement for amateur productions."