Monday, March 29, 2010

Herschel Bernardi - The Censored FIDDLER ON THE ROOF song

Your download, cut from the Broadway show, is "When Messiah Comes."

The song came to mind because it's Passover time, and one of the traditions involved is for Orthodox Jews to get especially fashimmelt, and think that every Jew should get into a truck (a "mitzvah tank') and wrap tefillin. They believe if every Jew all over the world does this, then Messiah (perhaps the late Rabbi Schneerson) might finally make an appearance, either live, or on tape via Jay Leno, David Letterman, or, considering the lack of foreskin, Jon Stewart.

Questions of questionable religious rituals (waving a chicken over your head for example) the evolution of varying degrees of Judaism (including reformed), changes in interpretations of the Torah, and why so many Jews are brainy or funny (or both) have dogged both Jew and antisemite alike. Some aspects of changes in religion and morality were addressed in the Broadway musical "Fiddler on the Roof."

A song written for the show, but banned, was the seriocomic "When Messiah Comes." Is Jewish suffering to be rewarded when the Messiah comes? Why the suffering in the first place? How will the Messiah explain over 2,000 years of persecution, not to mention Ben Stiller movies and having to own two sets of dishes?

The irony and humor of "When Messiah Comes" was considered a little too much for 60's Broadway audiences. However after the great Herschel Bernardi took over the role of Tevye from Zero Mostel, and there was interest in his interpretations of songs from the show, he was able to sneak the tune onto his solo album.

For all observant Jews (a mark of which, is finding this blog) here's a bit of levity to go with the unleavened bread, and a trademark bit of bitterly amusing humor that should go down better than bitter herbs. For tonight's seder, the first night of Passover, the song may be a lot more fun than playing "hide the matzoh."

For all kind-hearted Gentiles (and any Gentile still reading this is more than qualified) the song can easily be adapted to a question of when Christ returns and why he and his Dad have allowed so much suffering in the world. After all, Easter's close to Passover and come to think of it, Jesus is as close to Jewish as you can get.

Enjoy the Easter/Passover holidays, God willing. Herschel Bernardi (October 30-1923-May 9, 1986) could still be alive and with us, except it either wasn't God's plan, or there is no God. In 1986 he lived long enough to celebrate one last Passover, and that means something. Doesn't it? We may not know for sure until Messiah comes.

WHEN MESSIAH COMES No pop-ups, porn ads or wait time. It wouldn't be nice.


dave g in Phoenix said...

What an amazing blog you have here! Such a wonderful diversity of music. I love every visit to Ill Folks.

Songs are cut from musicals all the time for many many reasons. Should this really be referred to as banned or censored? I'm guessing it was likely cut during try-outs for reasons of pace in the show. It's a beautiful song and a great performance from Bernardi, mind you, but I doubt it invoved a conspiracy. ;-)

Gut Yontif to all

Ill Folks said...

Hi Dave,

A valid point. The liner notes simply say "Mr. Bernardi sings two Harnick and Bock songs not heard in the current production." (The other was an actual song called "Fiddler on the Roof," perhaps overly explaining the premise of the show.)

In a 2002 interview with Robert Armin, Sheldon Harnick said, "We were surprised to find that in the context of the show, the song did not work. The reason was that the song occurred at a sad moment when the Jewish villagers were being expelled from their village. And, "When Messiah Comes" is basically a comedy song. The audience was puzzled and disturbed when Tevye sang a song in this sad situation that tried to make them laugh."

Harnick sang it himself on a 1993 one-man show album "Evening with Sheldon Harnick," and it turned up, sung badly by Lee Wilkof, on a cheesy CD of cut songs from Broadway shows called "Lost in Boston volume II."

A day after I posted the Bernardi tune, it turned up on another blog along with Harnick's quote (which is also easy to find on the Net.) At least they used my original link so I can keep track of the number of hits:

"Censored" might be a little strong but a word Harnick used to describe the audience reaction was "disturbed," and I think the backers felt that anything that could offend the audience needed to be cut (ie, censored).

The song could've been placed elsewhere in the show, or prefaced by a line from Tevye saying, "As I think of this terrible pogrom, my Jewish wit and irony kicks in, and I can't help but find something bitterly amusing in all of this..."

lokisings said...

Please erase my contact info when you get this, thanks! Dave

Andy 7 said...

Wow, I didn't know this. Of course it's controversial because it questions the existence of God and/or Jewish faith to a certain degree. Wonderful post, thanks!

Lois J. Levy Smith said...

I knew Herschel Bernardi my whole life.He was my father's closest friend as was his brother's Jack ..Boris..Sam and sister Fay.
If you love Herschel the book written by his brother Jack.." My Father The Actor" Herschel was a major star on Broadway in films on television and for humor which he was full of..the voice of Charlie the Tuna. and a loving part of my life.

Anonymous said...

Would anyone be so wonderfully kind as to post the lyrics for this song? I can't find them anywhere or an online recording..
Great post, thanks! :)

Jennifer Schillig said...

I dunno...I'd have liked to see this in the show. Maybe, as a comedy number, it would have been out of place in the sad scenes preceding the exile...and maybe not. After all, it wasn't fall-down-laughing-holding-your-sides humor, it was laugh-so-you-don't-cry humor, which was very much in keeping with the ending of the show.

Jan C said...

My mother had the album when I was a child, and I did not know that the song had been deleted from the show. All I knew was I loved that song.
Knowing where it was to have fit into the show, I can see why it was removed. Honestly, I can't think of anywhere in the play that it would have been appropriate. Even with an intro as suggested by Ill Folks, it wouldn't have fit anywhere but when the villagers were told to pack up, sell out and get out. It was inappropriate at that point due to the sadness and heartbreak of such a demand on them.