Friday, June 26, 2009

Encore: Becoming Tevye

First Posted in June of 2007 as a Sunday Concert --

If I Were a Rich Man: Topol

One of my very favorite roles as a musical theater enthusiast came in 2000 when I became for a few weeks Tevye. I had played several other major roles in college and community theater but only one -- Charlie Anderson in Shenandoah -- that required the kind of concentration and dedication and, well, total immersion that this role required. As Charlie I had been cast in October for a play that opened the last week of February. What luxury to have such a long period of time to create a character. For the role of Tevye, in Rome Little Theater's production of Fiddler On the Roof, I had a much shorter prep time, and was now teaching fulltime -- I had been self-employed during my time as Charlie and had a more flexible, if just as stressful, schedule.

All of that to help you understand that I was terribly stressed and uncertain on opening night. Sure enough, my nerves got to me and I had my most miserable moment on stage. I went blank. I commited the unforgivable stage sin of actually repeating a section of dialogue, I was so lost!

I wanted to take a dive into the orchestra pit. It was opening night, there would be another opportunity to bomb the next night and the next. I was miserable.

Then epiphany.

23 hours later, still miserable, I stood center stage in the Desoto Theater, nose to the dark side of the curtain as the overture played, waiting for the curtains to part for my first monologue and the big opening number, "Tradition". And it struck me.

Here I am doing the thing that excites me more than any other. The thing I profess to love. Playing a role I have coveted more than any other save Jean Valjean. How wasteful of a grand moment to be so self centered and timid. This is an opportunity to grab. A moment to treasure. An experience to live. An unrecoverable time to harvest and possess.

As the "fiddler" played on the roof and the curtain opened I resolved to pluck the moment - Carpe Deim! Or as Tevye might shout: L'chai-im.

I would possess that stage. I would live that role. I would have fun. I would laugh and love, grieve and rage. I might fall on my face. I might lose a line. I might royally screw up. But my screw-ups would be as Tevye. They would be grand screw-ups not timid ones. I WAS where I wanted to be. I WOULD be fully there. L'chai-im!

That performance is seared in my memory as the most fun I could ever have on stage. What a joyful, loving, painful, redeeming night!

A lot of folks revere Zero Mostel as the quintessential Tevye, but I love the twinkle in the eye of Topol. To me his Tevye is flesh and blood... and as a father and husband I understand the depth of his love and anger and fear. So, though I like to think I found my own Tevye, there was a little of Topol's in mine.

Here, for your Sunday entertainment, is Topol with his interpretation of "If I Were a Rich Man":

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