Topol’s Tevye – What a Mitzvah!
First, maybe I should explain mitzvah. Literally a blessing; it involves no requisite words or accoutrements. It is usually a deed done for someone else. Normally, it meets a need, not realizable normally. So when I say Topol’s Tevye amounts to a mitzvah for Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theatre, I should say, it’s for the audiences flocking in the next two weeks to witness “Fiddler on the Roof.”
Understand, I mean no disrespect for Zero Mostel, who first appeared in the part on Broadway; I loved his Tevye. But I felt, at times, he was playing the role strictly for comedy, no harm meant. His conversations with God seemed sly and the great Israeli star is more open; he has a true dialogue, not untouched by humor, God forbid. But his smiling strikes me more at himself than You-Know-Who.
Overall, Topol achieves great dignity despite his lowly village milk man’s social standing, blighted by the reality, he is a Jew living in a society where that is not a good thing. In Tsarist times, Jews were expendable, subject to pogroms, the Black Hundreds, or when an ordinary Russian felt like killing or raping – especially in villages like the small and insignificant Anatevka, where the fiddle plays while perched on a roof.
Theatrical records show Chaim Topol created the role for the London stage exactly 40 years ago, in 1969. He was a mere stripling, black of beard at 33. By Tuesday’s opening in Baltimore, years had taken care of the cosmetic details. He has played the part over 2,500 performances, from London to Israel, Japan to Australia and many points in between, including Broadway, on several occasions. Not incidentally he made the 1971 movie.
Naturally his majesty demanded the finest production for this tour; and he got it. The sets, lighting and costumes are brilliant. That word especially applies to everybody up there on the Hippodrome boards. For some of the actors, they’ve heard the fiddler’s staccato before: Susan Cella wrapped her head a number of times, playing wife Golde to another Tevye. David Brummel’s stately beard enjoyed exposure as the milkman himself.
In the hours since the Baltimore curtain went down Tuesday night, the persons my life has touched must be tired of hearing me ask, almost plead, that for the sake of their nature and their souls they must go to see this “Fiddler on the Roof” – Topol’s Tevye makes it that special. A week from Sunday it vanishes somewhere up the road; God forbid it should leave without your seeing. I hope you do.