Bette Midler And Others Share Memories Of “Fiddler On The Roof”

New York Times
A Half-Century of ”˜Fiddler on the Roof’ Memories
By ERIC GRODEDEC. 18, 2015


So many Velcro-affixed bottles. So many fake beards (plus a few real ones). And so, so many daughters. As the sun rises Sunday, Dec. 20, on the latest Broadway “Fiddler on the Roof” revival, this one starring Danny Burstein as the beleaguered milkman Tevye, we look back at 51 years in Anatevka. The original leading man (Zero Mostel) and director (Jerome Robbins) were often barely on speaking terms, but that 1964 Harold Prince production went on to a record-setting run. We asked veterans of that “Fiddler” and of the incalculable number of professional, amateur and student productions that followed to recall their experiences. Here are edited excerpts. ERIC GRODE

Harvey Fierstein

Replacement Tevye in the 2004 Broadway revival

From Jazz to Legos, Toasts ”˜To Life’DEC. 18, 2015
I grew up in New York, and my mom was very culturally minded. Theater tickets were $2 for the balcony in 1964, and my mom would often buy four tickets in the front row of the balcony for her, my father, me and my brother. One day, the curtain went up – and it was a stage full of Jews. My life was never the same after that.

Adrienne Barbeau

Replacement Hodel in the original production

I had sent my photo and résumé to Shirley Rich, who was Hal Prince’s casting director, and I got a call one Friday to come in the following Tuesday for what was an absolutely grueling four-hour audition. I was auditioning against the woman who was understudying the role at the time, but I remember getting this psychic message from my grandmother, who had survived the Armenian genocide, that I would get it. And I got it!

Bette Midler

Replacement Tzeitel in the original production

Maria Karnilova, who played Golde, was the most brilliant actress I have ever seen. I watched her every night in the wings and could never figure out how she did it. But the person who showed me the most kindness was Joanna Merlin, who was the original Tzeitel, who suggested me to replace her when she left. (The second time. It’s a long story!)

It was a perfect storm of talent, and universal themes: the pull of tradition and family, the struggle to retain your human dignity in the face of terrible odds. And of course, everyone knows a Yente, even if they’re not Jewish.

Carolyn Mignini

Replacement Sima in the original production

At the five-minute call, Adrienne Barbeau and Bette Midler and I would meet in the enclosed house onstage and sing ’50s and ’60s songs to warm up.

Josh Groban

Tevye at Los Angeles County High School for the Arts

I was a late bloomer, and I still couldn’t grow a beard, even in 12th grade, so I had to wear the fake beard and glue it onto my face every night. I just had the best time. I’m not a good dancer, so a lot of the moves for Tevye were right in my wheelhouse, just kind of dramatically, sluggishly moving. It’s a wonderful memory, because it was the first time that I really felt I fit in.

Danny Burstein

Tevye in the current revival

In 1986, I believe, I was lucky enough to be in a production with the great Theodore Bikel. I played Mendel, the rabbi’s son. It was especially memorable to me, because it was directed by Sheldon Harnick’s brilliant brother, Jay Harnick. Jay gave me one of the greatest pieces of direction I’ve ever gotten. I was playing Mendel for laughs. He wanted it real. He pulled me aside and said with a warm smile, “Danny, dare to be disliked.” In other words, play the show. Tell the story – and the story isn’t always about you.


Michael Cyril Creighton

Ensemble at St. Anthony’s High School in South Huntington, N.Y.

I went to Catholic high school, so naturally I played a young Jewish boy in the chorus. Admittedly, I was pretty bummed I didn’t get to glue on a beard. They did, however, make up my face for the back of the auditorium: chestnut brown eye shadow with white highlights. I found it difficult to keep my clip on Hasidic curls in place while alternating my arms and legs during “Tradition.” And while quite a few curls ended up on that stage floor during the run, boy, did my eyes pop. In the current production I believe my roles are being played by a small woman.

Adam Kantor

Motel in the current revival

I made my theatrical debut playing Mendel, the rabbi’s son, in sixth grade on Long Island, in the Great Neck North Middle School production of “Fiddler.” Two years later, in eighth grade, I really moved up the ladder and played Tevye in a Great Neck community youth theater production. Fake beard, pillow stomach, etc. Recently, on Yom Kippur, I was home in Great Neck and found the videos of those two productions. I felt sentimental and horrified. My Mendel was rather sincere, but I think I had decided that Tevye, despite his exhaustion and age, should kick extremely high during “Rich Man,” while bending backward, like a Jewish Rockette on crack. I pay homage to that strange moment by doing a somewhat similar weird high kick in “Miracle of Miracles.”

Harry Katzman

Lazar Wolf at Stagedoor Manor performing arts camp in 2006

I had just moved from the U.K. to America, and I felt for the first time like I had found my calling. Then I got a call from Weston Playhouse after my junior year of college to say that their Motel had dropped out at the last minute. I dropped everything and went to Vermont, and that’s how I got my Equity card.
Austin Pendleton

Motel in the original production

Zero absolutely unlocked a door inside me, which is exactly what Tevye did to Motel. Not one single night was the same. Not one.

Jonathan Hadary

Tevye in a 2014 production at Arena Stage in Washington

There was a book in my household when I was a kid called “Life Is With People,” and it was all about the world of the shtetl. Not religion as much as background, context, attitude, outlook on life – all these things that were fostered in me without my knowing it. I consulted that book a lot when I played Tevye. It’s a beauty.

Tanya Everett

Chava in the original production

Jerry Robbins could be hard to work with, and not all of the actors wanted to give him an opening night present. Two of the other sisters got together with me and made something for him – I don’t remember what. We said it was from the entire company.

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