book_cover_new-largeSince it first opened on Broadway in September, 1964, Fiddler on the Roof has constantly been onstage somewhere, including five Broadway revivals, four productions on London’s West End and thousands of schools, army bases and countries from Argentina to Japan. Barbara Isenberg interviewed the men and women behind the original production, the film and significant revivals– Harold Prince, Sheldon Harnick, Joseph Stein, Austin Pendleton, Joanna Merlin, Norman Jewison, Topol, Harvey Fierstein and more– to produce a lively, popular chronicle of the making of Fiddler. Published in celebration of Fiddler’s 50th anniversary, Tradition! is the book for everyone who loves Fiddler and can sing along with the original cast album.


Reviews for Tradition!

“Half a century of sunrises and sunsets have passed since Fiddler on the Roof opened. It’s still playing to full houses somewhere, and theater journalist Isenberg expounds happily on why it remains such a satisfactory hit for all audiences. Who would expect a big Broadway musical about poor shtetl Jews to become such a big hit? Yet Fiddler, based on stories set in Czarist Russia by the popular Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem, broke box office records…The star, of course, was a mad comic genius, the egocentric Zero Mostel, who loathed the difficult directorial genius, equally egocentric Jerome Robbins… The popular 1971 film, under the guidance of Norman Jewison (not Jewish), starring Israeli actor Chaim Topol, with Isaac Stern fiddling, carried Fiddler’s reputation still further. For many of a certain age, the musical’s score is ingrained, part of the DNA. Isenberg’s readable, straightforward history… is a loving tribute to a cultural phenomenon.” —Kirkus Reviews

“The seemingly hyperbolic subtitle of award-winning journalist and theater author Isenberg’s tribute to Fiddler on the Roof, “the world’s most beloved musical,” is entirely justified. Interviews with the principal creators, actors, and allied personnel juxtaposed with detailed number-crunching statistics and balance-sheet information and a breezily deft narrative explicate the inherent charm and soul of Fiddler. The author has created a most endearing valentine to honor the production on its upcoming 50th anniversary (the show opened on Broadway’s Imperial Theatre September 22, 1964)… VERDICT: A deliciously rich and detailed story of an American musical-theater jewel… An obligatory purchase for every musical theater collection.”  —Library Journal

Advance Praise for Tradition!

“Barbara Isenberg’s history of Fiddler on the Roof, from Sholom Aleichem’s Tevye stories to Norman Jewison’s film and beyond, is definitive. I can’t imagine anyone covering the subject more fascinatingly or eloquently. As someone who was lucky enough to be part of the saga, I applaud Tradition!”—Hal Prince, producer of Fiddler on the Roof onstage.

“Barbara’s book traces the history of Fiddler from the stage to the screen. It is a fascinating story filled with laughter and tears.”—Norman Jewison, director of the film Fiddler on the Roof

“Barbara Isenberg’s book about the making of Fiddler itself has all the qualities that make that musical so great: it’s drenched in humanity, it’s full of joy and sorrows, beautifully rendered, it’s often very funny and it’s almost somber in the way it appreciates the process through which unforgettable theater has to be born. The early parts of it, which I lived through, hit me with, if I wanted to be pretentious (and I do) a truly Proustian surge; the rest of it conveyed all the richness and fascination it surely had for all those participants. I think as many people who love Fiddler on the Roof will love this book. In other words, people all over the world.”— Austin Pendleton

“Tradition gives you a wonderful sense of Sholem Aleichem’s world and Fiddler’s heart- and of the heartbreak that runs through its core. Reading the book, I realized what denomination of Jew I am—a Fiddler on the Roof Jew.”—Julie Salamon, author of Wendy and the Lost Boys: The Uncommon Life of Wendy Wasserstein

“Great works of art seem to have been created effortlessly. They appear as whole, solid and eternal as if they’d always existed in their perfection. Fiddler on the Roof is one of those works. Every element of the story, script, music and lyrics are so naturally balanced and complete that it seems impossible to imagine the success of this piece was ever in question or that its creators ever floundered. Here, Barbara Isenberg uncovers sweat and tears behind the curtain through the stories of those who were actually there. And then, she carries us forward to this day’s productions which keep Fiddler on the Roof before generation after generation of appreciative audiences. Brava, Barbara!!!!”— Harvey Fierstein


gehry-200Culling the most candid, revealing, and entertaining interviews from her twenty years of talking with Frank Gehry, Barbara Isenberg gives us an intimate portrait of our most influential architect. In Conversations with Frank Gehry, Isenberg covers every aspect of his career: his early formative influences, work process, artistic influences, inspiration, business, art and artists. Subjects include his childhood spent building cities from blocks on his grandmother’s floor, winning the Walt Disney Concert Hall competition, and touring Bilbao for the first time. He divulges his frank opinions of other architects, including Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier and Rudolf Schindler. In addition, illustrations, including early sketches and models, and computer renderings allow us to see Gehry’s thoughts unfold, step by step.

“I’ve written about many of [his] endeavors, interviewing Gehry again and again for newspapers, magazines, and books since the 1980s,” writes Barbara Isenberg in her Introduction. “A few years ago, he asked me if I would help him organize his memories through an oral history. I was immediately drawn to the idea, having enjoyed our earlier interviews, and what began as an oral history soon evolved into the conversations I’ve edited here.” Conversations with Frank Gehry is an unprecedented look into the life and work of a brilliantly creative, amusing, and articulate man.

Conversations with Frank Gehry – Reviews

  • “Absolutely fascinating.. A gold mine for scholars and the general public.” Library Journal
  • “Surprising Conversations reveals an architect every bit as engaging as his buildings.” New York Times
  • “Rich and revelatory.. Gehry’s long relationship with Isenberg has produced a level of trust and familiarity that allows him to open up in ways he has rarely done publicly.” Christopher Hawthorne, Los Angeles Times
  • “Isenberg offers worthwhile new information for architecture devotees and an engaging introduction for general readers.” Martin Filler, The New York Times Book Review
  • “Ambition and what [Frank Gehry] calls his ‘aw-shucks’ personality collude in such precedent-setting projects as Guggenheim Bilbao, Disney Hall, and his own chain-link-happy home in Santa Monica.  This conversation sheds light on them all.” Los Angeles Magazine
  • “A frank conversation with Frank [is] unusually revealing, and few have done it better than arts reporter Barbara Isenberg. There are sharp insights on the creative process.” Michael Webb, The Architect’s Newspaper
  • “Isenberg keeps her sharp questions front and center, reminding the readers that these are intelligently interactive interviews . Gehry’s conversations with Isenberg offer portraits of an astute listener as well as talker.” Norman Weinstein,
  • “Articulate and disarmingly unpretentious.” Starred review, Booklist


state_ofthe_arts_isenbergState of the Arts chronicles the link between creativity and place through conversations with more than 50 California artists both well-known and lesser-known. Musician Dave Brubeck, novelist Maxine Hong Kingston, artist Alexis Smith, and writer Joan Didion all were born in California. David Hockney calls himself an “English Los Angeleno” while Toronto-born Frank Gehry got here and essentially changed the way we look at architecture not just in California but around the world. Poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, novelist John Rechy, director Peter Sellars, artist Judy Chicago and so many other creative people grew up across the country or across the world but eventually came to California to paint or to sculpt, to compose music or to write novels. Edward Weston once said everything worth photographing was in California.

State of the Arts – Reviews

  • “Probing interviews…[Isenberg]plumbs the qualities of the Golden State that inspire those who were born or moved there.” Time
  • “The book is the single best example of how creativity inspires creativity in the hothouse environment of California.” Los Angeles Times
  • “Reading these interviews is like eavesdropping on the artists’ ruminations.” New York Times Book Review
  • “Since Isenberg knows that the key to a good interview is to let the subject talk, her book is filled with wonderful insights and anecdotes — funny, moving and fascinating.” ARTnews
  • “Even as a non-Californian, I find great delight in reading this book, and in the richness and contributions its heroes have made in life.” Studs Terkel
  • “Interesting and eclectic, this is an illuminating book.” Library Journal


making_it_big_isenbergHow does one of Broadway’s most anticipated musicals end up folding its tent after just six months and with a potential loss of more than $10 million? In Barbara Isenberg’s behind-the scenes account, readers follow step by step as the musical Big struggles against nearly insuperable odds. The long-awaited stage adaptation of the popular Tom Hanks film did not have an easy journey, and in this authoritative, insightful and readable journal, we go backstage as the $10.3 million production is cast, rewritten, rehearsed and performed, first in Detroit, then in New York. Doors are opened to high-pressure rehearsals, passionate advertising debates, stern budget talks and endless rewrite sessions in out-of-town hotel rooms.

Making It Big illuminates the harsh realities of musical theater, a much-beloved but high-stakes, high-risk art form. It is a book for everyone who cares about Broadway musicals.

Making It Big – Reviews

  • “Marvelous. Barbara Isenberg’s precise and perceptive account of Big from its birth pangs to its final delivery is a gripping tale of blood, sweat and toys.” Larry Gelbart
  • Making It Big is a juicy, must-read cautionary tale for all those who care about the survival of legitimate theater.” Liz Smith syndicated column
  • “….convinces us that anyone who works for years on a musical will be driven insane, assuming they weren’t insane in the first place.” John Heilpern, New York Observer
  • “..[a] fascinating log of the creation of Big….After reading Isenberg’s book, you thank God the Olivier Awards do not obsess the British in the mad, damaging way the Tonies do Americans.” Benedict Nightingale, The Times (London)
  • “Isenberg’s account…provides a detailed look at how the musical theater and its creators function in the big-business Broadway environment of the ’90s.” Dramatists Guild Quarterly
  • “a fascinating blow-by-blow description of the creation of the musical Big” Patrick Pacheco, Newsday
  • “a lovable and dedicated cast of characters [in] a cautionary tale for producers, writers, and artists as well as audiences.” Library Journal
  • “If you’ve always wondered how a Broadway show gets put together, this is the book for you…a sobering and absorbing book.” Clifford Ridley, Philadelphia Inquirer
  • “Anyone with an interest in how a musical is conceived, what happens to it during its tryout period, and why it ultimately succeeds or fails, will relish this insider’s look…” Show Music
  • “Musical theater buffs will find Making It Big a terrific read.” Nelson Pressley, Washington Times
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