Sunday, April 24, 2022

Interview With Fiddler On The Roof Expert & Author Jan Lisa Huttner


1.      What motivated you to write Diamond Fiddler: New Traditions for a New Millennium, to force you from taking an idea or experience and turning it into this book?

On May 20, 2000, I found myself at the Marc Chagall Biblical Message Museum in France on what was just supposed to be a relaxing family vacation… But that day changed my life. I fell in love with Marc Chagall, and he led me, almost immediately, to Fiddler on the Roof.

There’s a silver mine in Bolivia called Cerro Rico de Potosí. Spanish conquistadores opened it in 1545, and, centuries later, it is still a fully functional silver mine. Me? I have now been “mining” Fiddler on the Roof for over 20 years, but, with all that I have now extracted, there are still rich veins to be explored.

How to explain this “miracle of miracles”…? “I’ll tell you. I don’t know.” But once I started telling people about my discoveries, I began receiving speaking invitations and the word spread. And, at some point, it became clear to me that I had an obligation to publish my major insights.

To whom was I obligated?

To Marc Chagall. To Sholem Aleichem. To Jerome Robbins and all those who had worked on the original Broadway production with him in 1964. To all the people who have seen Fiddler on the Roof and loved Fiddler on the Roof since 1964. And to future generations, because I sincerely believe that millions of people will continue to cherish Fiddler on the Roof for decades to come… long after I am gone.

     2.      You’re comparing your research on Fiddler on the Roof to working in a silver mine? Is this why Diamond Fiddler has such a unique structure?

Yes! Think cinematically for a moment. You’re driving down a highway and you see a mountain on the horizon. You probably don’t care much about what’s inside the mountain. You just want a tunnel to take you from one side to the other. So, your journey though the mountain is very linear: in and out.

But now think of yourself as a miner. There’s a mountain on the horizon, and you’ve been told people have found chunks of silver nearby. What’s your goal now? You probably want to extract every single bit of treasure that’s hidden inside the mountain.

So, you build a tunnel and you find veins of silver and you start digging. And when one vein dries up, you go back to the main tunnel and start digging out another. Soon the inside of the mountain is a warren of tunnels, and sometimes, you’re digging in a new tunnel and you suddenly find yourself breaking through to a tunnel you thought was tapped out.

My journey inside the mountain called Fiddler on the Roof has kept me digging and digging for years now. And even after having published two books about Fiddler on the Roof, I am certain there is still more treasure to be found.

My readers won’t drive through a tunnel; my readers will go down into the mine with me.


3.      OK, Jan, that’s as clear as mud. What is Diamond Fiddler about and who is it for?

The Diamond Fiddler story begins in 1963. The original backers of Fiddler on the Roof were skeptical. The original reviews of Fiddler on the Roof were harsh. After the first previews, everyone expected a flop. But by 1973, Fiddler on the Roof had become the longest running show in Broadway history.

Diamond Fiddler explains why the major themes of Fiddler on the Roof have now transcended both space and time. Diamond Fiddler explains why all the experts were wrong. Diamond Fiddler explains why all the audiences are right.

Diamond Fiddler is for readers who care about meaning. Several books have already been published about the making of Fiddler on the Roof. But Diamond Fiddler is about the meaning of Fiddler on the Roof.

  • What are its major themes?
  • What are its artistic antecedents, and what are its historical resonances?

And most important: Why, after more than fifty years, does this little story about a Jewish family living in a remote town in Eastern Europe in 1905 still move people all around the world to tears?


4.      What takeaways might the reader will be left with after reading it?

First and foremost, my readers will learn a heck of a lot of facts about Fiddler on the Roof which will deepen their appreciation of this great work of art.

For example, the answer to the question “Which Fiddler is THE Fiddler?” may start with Marc Chagall and the many, many paintings in which he depicted violins and violinists. But follow this vein of silver into the mountain, and the tunnel soon leads to a klezmer musician named Stempenyu, and then to a novel Sholem Aleichem wrote about this klezmer musician early in his career.

So, which Chagall fiddler became the inspiration for the title Fiddler on the Roof matters a great deal, because only one of those paintings is directly tied to the story of Stempenyu.

If you pick Chagall’s painting The Fiddler (1912-1913) rather than Green Violinist (1923-1924) – as so many critics do – all of this context is lost.

To my potential readers: I promise that once you read Sholem Aleichem’s description of Stempenyu, you will never hear the first notes of Fiddler on the Roof in the same way ever again.

And singing “The Fiddler’s Theme” (Da DeeDeeDeeDee Dum, Da DeeDeeDeeDee Dum) will make the sun rise in your mind’s eye even in the dark of night.


5.      How did you decide on this particular title?

I always knew I wanted to call my book Diamond Fiddler as a way of pointing readers beyond Fiddler on the Roof’s 50th anniversary (the Golden Anniversary in 2014) towards its 75th Anniversary (the Diamond Anniversary in 2039).

The subtitle New Traditions for a New Millennium is the key to Fiddler on the Roof’s longevity. Every human child is born into a unique set of family traditions. So, to become adults, all children have to find their own balance between the old and the new. What will they retain? What will they challenge? Traditions are always evolving.

I am totally confident that people will be producing Fiddler on the Roof, and performing in Fiddler on the Roof, and going to see Fiddler on the Roof long after I am gone. After all, people in Bolivia are still finding silver in the Cerro Rico de Potosí mine!


6.      What challenges did you overcome to write this book?

Way back in May 2000, when I stopped in the Marc Chagall Biblical Message Museum’s bookstore on my way out, and then boarded my tour bus with a book about Chagall in hand, I didn’t think to question the word “book.”

But what is a “book” in 2022? And what might a “book” be by 2039? Now consider how fraught the whole topic becomes when you add a verb. What does it mean to “read a book” when my “readers” now have options like eReaders and audiobooks? And who knows what “reading” options might come next?

If you know that the “readers” you most covet are likely to be holding screens up to their noses (as opposed to sheets of paper pasted inside a cover), then, as a writer, aren’t you obligated to create a structure that meets their needs?

Circling back to question two (about structure), the structure of Diamond Fiddler is deliberately non-linear. Why? Because most people “read” differently in the 21st Century than they did in all the centuries before.

My readers are encouraged to explore topics based on interest at their own speed. A huge amount of time and effort went into the Table of Contents (at the front) and the Index (at the back). Since I know Fiddler on the Roof will keep re-appearing at different points in their lives, I am confident that their interests will change over time. Then, when my readers come back to Diamond Fiddler with new questions, they will find “new” content.


7.      How would you describe your writing style?

Questions. And more questions. And then even more questions. I ask a lot of questions in Diamond Fiddler, and then I do my best to provide answers to those questions.

I am always following glimmers that lead me to dig new tunnels in this mine. I want my readers to think of this as an adventure, and come on this treasure hunt with me.

I want my readers to seek answers to things they’ve never questioned before.

I want my readers to reject “conventional wisdom,” and ask questions that even I haven’t thought to ask.

I want my readers to find every bit of buried treasure in Fiddler on the Roof even after I am long gone.


8.      If people can buy or read one book this week or month, why should it be yours?

To theater people (amateurs or professionals of any age and every background): Here are things to consider as you create your new production of Fiddler on the Roof.

To critics and scholars: Get your facts right!

To the general reader: Diamond Fiddler is a Fiddler on the Roof encyclopedia. You don’t start & stop. It stays on the shelf, and every time you have a new question you will find new answers.

Life is a journey, not a destination. “To Life! To Life! L’Chayim!”


About The Author: Jan Lisa Huttner is the author of two books on the beloved musical Fiddler on the Roof. Tevye’s Daughters: No Laughing Matter – affectionately known as “the appetizer” – focuses on just one question: Why does the number of daughters in Fiddler on the Roof matter?

Diamond Fiddler: New Traditions for a New Millennium, on the other hand, is an encyclopedic compilation of answers to many different questions about Fiddler on the Roof, tracing the sources of Fiddler’s narrative all the way back to BaMidbar (the Bible’s Book of Numbers). Diamond Fiddler is “the meal.” Jan also served as a story consultant—as well as a talking head—on the award-winning documentary Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles (now included in the PBS Great Performances series). It’s desert! For more information, please consult: and



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Brian Feinblum should be followed on Twitter @theprexpert. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog ©2022. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now resides in Westchester with his wife, two kids, and Ferris, a black lab rescue dog. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s The Independent.  This blog, with over 4,000 posts over the past decade, was named one of the best book marketing blogs by BookBaby and recognized by Feedspot in 2021 and 2018 as one of the top book marketing blogs. It was also named by as a "best resource.” For the past three decades, including 21 as the head of marketing for the nation’s largest book publicity firm, and two jobs at two independent presses, Brian has worked with many first-time, self-published, authors of all genres, right along with best-selling authors and celebrities such as: Dr. Ruth, Mark Victor Hansen, Joseph Finder, Katherine Spurway, Neil Rackham, Harvey Mackay, Ken Blanchard, Stephen Covey, Warren Adler, Cindy Adams, Susan RoAne, Jeff Foxworthy, Seth Godin, and Henry Winkler. He recently hosted a panel on book publicity for Book Expo America, and has spoken at ASJA, IBPA, Sarah Lawrence College, Nonfiction Writers Association, Cape Cod Writers Association, Willamette (Portland) Writers Association, and Connecticut Authors and Publishers Association. His letters-to-the-editor have been published in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, New York Post, NY Daily News, Newsday, The Journal News (Westchester) and The Washington Post. He has been featured in The Sun Sentinel and Miami Herald. For more information, please consult: 


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