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Topol Seeks New Ways to Play 'Fiddler'

December 27, 1990|From Reuters

NEW YORK — After more than 1,000 performances as Tevye in the musical "Fiddler on the Roof," Israeli actor Chaim Topol searches for new ways to charm his audience as the Russian Jewish dairyman.

Most of them already have seen the play or the film. They know the plot. They know the lyrics. They know when they will laugh and when they will cry.

"They've seen it in the film, in a show, or they participated in a show in high school or in a community center or whatever," said Topol, who is playing Tevye for the first time on Broadway. "Our task is really to . . . bring them something apart from unfolding the story and the drama in front of their eyes."

For Topol, who starred in the film version of the play in 1971 and has played Tevye in London, Israel and Japan, the move to Broadway was not particularly eventful.

"The performance doesn't really change. There's no difference between a performance that takes place 300 yards from Picadilly Circus or takes place 300 yards from Times Square or takes place 300 yards from downtown Los Angeles," said the 55-year-old actor.

Once a comedian in the Israeli army, Topol first portrayed Tevye in "Fiddler" more than 20 years ago.

"I never believed that when a man would come and ask for my daughter's hand . . . the most primitive thoughts would come to my mind, like, will they really love each other forever? Is he healthy? Can he produce healthy children? Will he love her? Can he provide for her?" Topol said.

"These things obviously are now part of my experience and part of my prism through which I deliver the part.'

Part of Topol's portrayal of Tevye comes from the experiences of his father, who emigrated to Palestine in the 1930s, and his paternal grandfather, who lived south of Kiev.

"I am sort of a grandson of a Tevye," he said. "He wasn't a dairyman, but he was the sort of man with humor, religion, with a big family, and simple.

"In a way, what I'm doing is really the way my grandfather would behave and certainly what he would believe.

"And when I'm angry on stage, that's very much taken from my father . . . and all his gestures and behaviors. It's anger filled with humor.

"But this is my Tevye. I don't think that other people should play it in the same way."

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