Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Jerry Bock — 1928-2010

Another light on Broadway goes out.

Jerry Bock, who wrote his first musical in public school and went on to compose the scores for some of Broadway’s most successful shows, including “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Fiorello!” and “She Loves Me,” died on Wednesday in Mount Kisco, N.Y. He was 81 and lived in Manhattan.

Mr. Bock, along with his collaborator, Sheldon Harnick, was one of the honorees at the William Inge Festival in 2007.

Fiddler on the Roof was not the first musical I saw, nor was it the first musical I was in, but it left a deep impression on me when the University of Miami did a production of it in the spring of 1972. But more than anything in the show is the music; to this day I still remember the lyrics and the rhythms that came out of it. Whether or not you’re familiar with the traditions, so to speak, the music touches you in ways that no other can.

I had a small part in the UM production; I played the Russian priest. Tevye was played by Ernie Sabella, who went on to have a long and distinguished career on stage and TV, and the stage manager of the production was George Bock, Jerry’s son. Mr. Bock came down and watched our rehearsals and added a song to our production called “When Messiah Comes.” It was a sardonic piece, placed near the end of the show when [spoiler alert] the village of Anatevka is being emptied of its Jews by Tsarist forces. Some of the men in the town wonder that since they’ve been kicked out of so many places, would Messiah be able to find them when he eventually shows up. The song had been in the original production but dropped during try-outs. We were glad to give it a brief resurrection.

Sunrise, sunset.