“Fiddler on the Roof,” the beloved musical about the trials and tribulations of Tevye the Milkman and his daughters in the (fictional) Russian shtetl of Anatevka around the turn of the century, returns to the Fox Theatre for eight performances, beginning Nov. 9.
The show, which first opened in 1964, is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the 1971 movie adaptation. Like the motion picture production, which starred the Israeli actor Chaim Topol, this relatively new, critically acclaimed staging also features an Israeli, Yehezkel Lazarov, in the role of Tevya.
The 47-year-old Lazarov, who lives in Tel Aviv, is the grandson of religiously observant Russian immigrants who fled the Soviet Union in 1930, twelve years after the Czar was overthrown. Yet it was not until he began performing as Tevya three years ago in the road company of the musical that Lazarov began to appreciate the parallels between his own life and the character he plays.
“As a kid, I used to walk with my grandfather and listen to his stories about the way they left Russia because of the problems, just like in ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’” he said. “Like Tevya, I have three daughters and I’m dealing with a lot of the same issues as he did. These coincidences are quite amazing. They’ve helped me to feel that I belong to the role and helps me feel that, in a way, I own it.”
Over the years, the starring role in the musical has evolved considerably. There have been six revivals on Broadway during the almost six decades since the musical first opened with Zero Mostel, the great comic actor, as Tevya. He played the role, more broadly, with a strong nod to its emotional foundations.
But as the 2019 documentary, “Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles” relates, Mostel was dropped from the film role in favor of Topol — the star of the London production — because the director, Norman Jewison, wanted an actor more representative of the tough fighters the world saw in the Israeli War of 1967. He wanted, in short, a man who could order a Russian government official to “get off my land” before being expelled, along with the other Jews, from Anatevka. The documentary was a 2019 select screening by the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival.
Likewise, Lazarov has approached the role in a way that is more representative of the times. In addition to being an actor and stage director in Israel, he is also the founder of a high school with a modern approach to education for the arts. He sees his role in a context that is more universal.
“I am part of a new generation that tries to think about a world without borders, without titles. Even though I am observant, and I observe kashrut and put on tefillin each morning, I don’t just identify myself as a Jew or an Israeli. I feel very related to Tevya’s sense of caring about everything. He cares about his relationship with God, he cares about his wife, he cares about the world. He’s always caring.”
This relatively new production, directed by Tony Award-winning director, Bartlett Sher, opened on Broadway in 2015 to generally good reviews, and ran for a full year. Lazarov was tapped for the role in 2018 and now has more than 500 performances under his belt, but despite the touring and the new audiences he encounters on the road, he never tires of attempting to reinvent the character of Tevya each night.
“You have to bring yourself into a new place each time. Every moment is for me something I’m discovering about the character or myself. I really mean that because you cannot survive 500 shows otherwise. You have to look for something that reflects a little of yourself and bring that to the audience. Your performance has to earn you a place on stage.”
Critics have called the production imaginative and moving, as well as a fine description of Tevye’s conflicts and the suffering of Jews under Czarist rule.
The original choreography, by the legendary Jewish American dance director Jerome Robbins, has been freshened up by Hofesh Shechter, who like Lazarov, is Israeli.
A new film version of the stage show is apparently also in the works. MGM has hired Thomas Kail, the Tony Award-winning director of “Hamilton” and “In the Heights,” to direct and co-produce the motion picture. Steven Levinson, who wrote the successful Broadway musical “Dear Evan Hansen,” has been selected to pen the script.
- Bob Bahr
- Fiddler on the Roof
- The Fox Theatre
- Broadway Across America
- Yehezkel Lazarov
- Chaim Topol
- tel aviv
- Zero Mostel
- Norman Jewison
- Israeli War of 1967
- Atlanta Jewish Film Festival
- Tony Award
- Bartlett Sher
- Jerome Robbins
- Hofesh Shechter
- Thomas Kail
- In the Heights
- Steven Levinson
- Dear Evan Hansen