‘Fiddler’ plays for Storyline

Revival not to be original's carbon copy, Meron sez

L’Chaim! Storyline Entertainment, which snagged a whopping 12 Emmy noms for its remake of “Annie,” will bring back to life the musical tradition of “Fiddler on the Roof” as a three-hour “Wonderful World of Disney” sweeps event for ABC.

Storyline’s Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, who will serve as executive producers of the project, have begun the search for both a helmer and a star to play the lead role of Tevye. Depending on how quickly those two pieces of talent fall into place, the pic could air as soon as next May, though an airdate during the 2001-02 season is more likely.

The new “Fiddler” is expected to mark the first time the current incarnation of “Wonderful World of Disney” has broadcast a three-hour original event.

Pic will be a adaptation of the classic Zero Mostel-led Broadway tuner, which featured a book by Joseph Stein, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick and music by Jerry Bock. Zadan and Meron also plan to re-create the Tony-winning choreography of helmer Jerome Robbins.

Set in a small Jewish village in 1905 Russia, “Fiddler” revolves around dairy farmer Tevye (played by Mostel on Broadway and Topol in the 1971 feature) and his attempts to hold on to family traditions while the rest of the world undergoes major change. His chief dilemma is whether to force his daughters into prearranged marriages or allow them to wed their true loves.

Reviving a classic

Zadan and Meron hope to do with “Fiddler” what they’ve done previously with their revivals of “Annie,” “Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella” and “Gypsy”: bring a theatrical classic back to life for a modern audience.

“In the past, when you made a movie musical, that was it. That’s what you had for all time,” Zadan said. “With this new franchise (of ‘Wonderful World of Disney’ pics), we’re able to do what they do in the theater world, which is take something and remake it for a whole new generation.”

Zadan said post-broadcast research on previous Storyline musicals has shown that many of the young viewers of the pics “have never been to a Broadway show. So the ability to introduce so many people to a musical is an enormous opportunity for us. It’s a great responsibility as well.”

While Storyline plans “to shoot (‘Fiddler’) as it was written for the stage,” the revival will not simply be a carbon copy of the original, according to Meron.

“We think we can bring something to the party that hasn’t been done before,” he said.

Impressive oeuvre

Storyline has picked up 40 Emmy noms for its pics, including 15 last month for the ABC broadcasts of “Annie” and “The Beach Boys: An American Dream.”

Zadan and Meron’s previous TV musical efforts — including “Annie,” the CBS staging of “Gypsy” starring Better Midler and ABC’s Whitney Houston-led production of “Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella” — scored huge Nielsen numbers and critical kudos. Most recently, “Annie,” exec produced with Disney’s Chris Montan, was the season’s most-watched telepic and won a Peabody Award and the TV Guide Award for fave movie or mini — on top of the 12 Emmy noms.

In addition to “Fiddler,” the duo is also working on a new version of “The Music Man” for ABC and is teaming with Barbra Streisand and Cis Corman for an adaptation of “Mame” for ABC (Daily Variety, Feb. 12, 1999.)

Based on the short story by Sholom Aleichem, “Fiddler” opened on Broadway in 1964 and ran for a then-record 3,243 perfs. It snagged nine Tony awards, including best musical and best book. The 1971 Norman Jewison-helmed pic earned eight Oscar noms, and won two.

“Fiddler” was acquired for Storyline by Disney’s Peter Schneider and ABC movies/minis topper Susan Lyne. Deal was brokered by Biff Liff of WMA (for Stein), and attorneys Richard Ticktin (for Bock), Alvin Deutsch (for Harnick) and Floria Lasky (for Robbins).