Who played tevye in fiddler on the roof movie
chaim topol was so young when he played tevye in the 1971 film version of the musical “fiddler on the roof” that he had to spend more than two hours in the makeup chair every day to transform himself into a middle-aged man . milkman.
The makeup artist even ripped gray hair out of director Norman Jewison’s beard and glued it onto Topol’s eyebrows.
but topol is now 73 and there is no need for old age makeup when he plays tevye on the current tour arriving tonight for a two and a half week engagement at the pantages theater in hollywood.
“Tevye has gotten younger and I have gotten older,” Topol said with a laugh over the phone last week in San Diego, where the show was on tour.
but, topol is quick to point out, “I still don’t have gray on my eyebrows.”
as the famous opening song of the show says, topol playing tevye has become a tradition. The Israeli-born actor estimated that he has played the beleaguered Russian-Jewish milkman who speaks to God more than 2,500 times over the last four decades. (However, this is his “farewell” tour. Topol says that he will hang Tevye’s milk pail forever when it ends in June.)
When he began his journey as Tevye in Tel Aviv in the mid-1960s, Tevye was 30 years old and only 34 when he starred in the classic film version, for which he received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor.
“When I did it in 1967 in London and even on the 1989 tour, I was very concerned about age,” he said. “Most of my energy went into maintaining and convincing the audience that I was 52 or something. I was closing my muscles and making sure not to make any gestures that might break the illusion, so I was very careful with that. I am completely free now. I’m not worried about looking too young, so I really enjoy it now.”
Based on “Tevye and Her Daughters” and other Sholem Aleichem stories, “Fiddler on the Roof” premiered on Broadway in 1964 with Zero Mostel in the title role. The first musical in Broadway history to exceed 3,000 performances, “Fiddler” is set in the small town of Anatevka in Czarist Russia in 1905.
tevye is a poor milkman with five daughters who tries to maintain family and religious traditions, something that his three strong-willed older daughters have a hard time understanding. Finally, the Jewish families of the town are evicted from their town by edict of the Tsar.
jerry bock and sheldon harnick wrote the score for “fiddler,” winner of nine tony awards; Joseph Stein adapted the stories. standards include “if I were a rich man”, “sunrise, sunset”, and “tradition”.
Topol appeared on Broadway in a revival of “Fiddler” in 1990-1991 and received a Tony Award nomination for his performance.
life experience has only enriched his performance, topol said. when tevye gives his daughter in marriage, the actor used to imagine what it would be like to give his children to strangers.
“But now I have given away three of my children, two girls and a boy, to strangers who have come, wonderful strangers, and I know exactly how a father feels.”
even when tevye sings the tune “do you love me?” To his wife, Golde, and asks if she loves him after 25 years of marriage, Topol’s initial response was, “I’ve been married for like eight years, so I was thinking 25 years! how can people live together 25 years? now I’m thinking, 25 years? they are children. what do they know? I have been married 52 years. I hope this kind of experience makes tevye more real.”
The show’s director and choreographer, Sammy Dallas Bayes, originally worked with Topol on the film version.
“I know its ins and outs,” he said.
However, he was concerned that topol would have problems with the show’s new setting because some of the direction and choreography would need to be changed to fit the new setting. “My first thought was, ‘She’s not going to like it,’ but she looked at it and I explained why she changed it, and she loved it.”
“working with topol is an adventure,” said susan cella, who performs as golde. She played the role about nine years ago on tour with Theodore Bikel.
“He knows this piece backwards and forwards,” he said of topol. “He is the great teacher on stage. he has all the charisma, power, and command that you would expect, especially for someone that age.”
topol, he said, “is greeted like a rock star at the beginning and end of the play. you say bon jovi is acting, that’s the kind of reception we get.”
bikel played the humor of the piece, but topol, said cella, is a much more sensitive tevye, “especially in the second act, when things hit him very emotionally.”
It was his emotional and dramatic skill that convinced Jewison that Topol would be the perfect tevye for the movies. Jewison had seen Mostel do it on Broadway, but he felt the production was “American Yiddish theatre”. but the London topol production had a much more European sensibility, closer to sholem aleichem stories.
the right look
because topol was basically an unknown, jewison had “a big battle” to persuade united artists to let him cast him in the film. “There was something about him that I loved,” said Jewison. “Not only did he photograph well, but he looked more like Tevye in my mind.”
“thanks to him I have been seen by nearly a billion people around the world”, said topol of jewison. “He was the second genius who molded me into this role. the first was jerry robbins, who directed me in london.”
So how does the septuagenarian handle being on the road doing a nearly three-hour show, sometimes eight times a week?
“The man is 73 years old and in better shape than all of us,” cella said. “He has inspired me to run. he runs two miles every day and does 300 sit-ups. He hasn’t been that good for me. I’m running at least.”
“I’m a good boy, and I’m a very disciplined boy, and every time I try to break discipline, my wife is here,” Topol said, laughing.
‘fiddler on the roof’
Where: Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood
when: 8 p.m. m. Tuesday to Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sundays end Aug. 9.
price: $20 to $75
contact: (800) 782-2787 or www.broadwayla.org
duration: 2 hours, 50 minutes
Where: Orange County Center for the Performing Arts
when: Aug. 11-23. 7:30 pm. From Tuesday to Friday; 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays; 1:00 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Sundays.
price: $25 to $75
contact: (714) 556-2787 or www.opac.org