Sheldon Harnick Dies: ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ Songwriter Turns 99


Sheldon Harnicklyricist “violinist on the roof” and “Fiorello!” and the creative partner of composer Jerry Block died Friday morning at his home in Manhattan. The New York Times confirmed. He was 99 years old.

Harnick met Bock in the late 1950s and collaborated in 1958 on “The Body Beautiful,” a stereo set in the world of prize fighting. But soon afterwards, in 1959, they collaborated on “Fiorello!”, a musical painting that features a portrait of notorious New York City politician Fiorello La Guardia.

Written by George Abbott and Jerome Weidman, “Fiorello!” followed the mayor of New York City from 1934-1945 and attracted theater audiences for nearly 800 performances. The production won three Tony Awards, including a Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Best Musical it shared for “The Sound of Music.”

Five years later, in 1964, Harnick and Bock collaborated on “Fiddler on the Roof,” which had over 3,200 performances and became the longest-running musical in Broadway history at the time.

Joseph Stein wrote the musical and based it on the stories of Sholem Aleichem. “Fiddler on the Roof” depicted a Jewish community on the verge of being exiled from their small village during the tsarist Russian empire. The story emphasizes the path of a family by centering the village of Sütçü Tevye. Harnick contributed his talents to the show by composing with Bock the songs “Matchmaker, Matchmaker”, “Tradition”, “Sunrise, Sunset” and “If I Were a Rich Man”, which have since become considered musical theater classics. The stage production would win nine Tony Awards and receive five separate Broadway reenactments. Harnick and Bock’s music later reached the big screen in 1971’s hit feature film.

Harvey Fierstein, who starred in one of his many reenactments in 2004, said in a statement: “As a theater buff, a Jew, an admirer of genius and nobility, I loved Sheldon Harnick and he passed away today. But, oh, the gifts he left us!” Fierstein added, “His words were clear and purposeful and never cliche. You’d never catch him relying on easy rhymes or ‘lists’ to fill a musical sentence. He always sought and sang the truth for the character, thus making his songs a pleasure to play. JOY! JOY! !!!”

“Sheldon embraced me just as he embraced his audience. I loved every backstage visit I had with him and his devoted wife, Margie, during the year I played ‘Fiddler’ on Broadway, and then when I took Topol’s place at the road company,” Fierstein concluded.

“Fiorello!” and “Fiddler on the Roof”, Harnick and Bock collaborations include “she She Loves Me” in 1963, “The Apple Tree” in 1966 and “The Rothschilds” in 1970. after more than a dozen years together.

Following the dissolution of their partnership, Harnick would continue to collaborate with Mary Rodgers on “Pinocchio,” Richard Rodgers on “Rex,” Joe Raposo on the stage adaptation of “A Wonderful Life,” and Michel Legrand on adaptations of “The Umbrellas.” ” Cherbourg” and “A Christmas Carol.”

Harnick also wrote original opera librettos such as “Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines”, “The Phantom Tollbooth” and “Lady Bird: First Lady of the Land”; He worked as an opera translator, where he provided English librettos for “The Merry Widow”, “The Soldier’s Tale” and “Carmen”.

Harnick was born in Chicago on April 30, 1924 and has always had an affinity for music. He began with violin lessons as a child, and after writing songs and serving in the military as a teenager, he enrolled at Northwestern University’s School of Music, which he graduated in 1949.

He moved to New York in 1950 and contributed lyrics to “The Boston Beguine”, “Leonard Sillman’s New Faces of 1952” and “Two’s Company”.

He was survived by his wife, actress Margery Gray, his children Beth Dorn and Matthew Harnick, and four grandchildren.

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