Fiddler on the Roof fiddles its way to Gateway Theatre
It’s artificially bushy in early publicity photos, but David Adams had just a few facial-hair-growing weeks to look the part of Fiddler on the Roof’s Tevye.
This week the seasoned actor sported five-week-old growth—performance-enhancing hair no longer required. The beard of Tevye is iconic in the beloved musical, and considering the acting greats who’ve played the role since its 1964 Broadway debut, Adams knows expectations for him go beyond the beard.
Adams has been diligently researching, reading and rehearsing his way to becoming the man at the heart of the classic story.
“The character of Tevye, he’s quite an iconic figure because the movie musical, which came out in ‘71, was so popular and continues to be,” said Adams in an interview this week. “He is a human being—an ordinary poor dairyman—but he embodies these large epic arguments that occur in the piece.”
The opening of Fiddler on the Roof next week at Gateway Theatre will mark the 29th year the Minoru Park institution has produced a family-friendly musical in December.
The first run of the show—whose famous songs include “If I were a Rich Man,” “Tradition” and “Sunrise Sunset”—lasted 18 years. It set a record as the longest-running Broadway show ever with 3,242 performances. (Grease later surpassed it.)
It’s set in a small Russian village in 1905. Tevye must decide whether to allow his daughters to marry for love or follow a more practical custom of matchmaking. It’s not the only challenge the family is facing. Rising anti-Semitism leads to a call for mass eviction of Jews in the village—including Tevye’s family.
Adams, who last appeared in the Toronto remount of Electric Company Production’s Tear the Curtain!, has had a long career in the performing arts, much of it built on his skills as a musical theatre performer. As an actor in musicals such as Show Boat and Sunset Boulevard in the mid-90s at what was the Ford Centre for Performing Arts, he’s been a witness to a growing interest in the art form.
“It’s been really great to see…how the musical has become quite a staple of entertainment,” he said. “There’s a real hunger for it.”
As Tevye, Adams has had to transform himself into a dairyman.
“As an actor, I’m still convinced that while you don’t have to have been the role that you’re playing, you have to have something that you can identify with.”
That something isn’t his ability to milk a cow, but he has done hard labour, and there’s a familiarity to the role in family.
“Most of Tevye’s angst comes from his family, his daughters especially. I have two daughters, so for me it’s very easy to latch into the emotional life of the character.”
As one of the most popular musicals of all time, Fiddler on the Roof can still claim popularity today—albeit few professional productions are mounted given the large cast requirements. Gateway, as it does each December, has accomplished the feat by placing professionals in the lead roles and adding community actors to fill the other spots. The result is a cast of 30 and a live 10-piece orchestra.
Adams sees the play particularly relevant today in the immigrant society of Canada, where parents and children clash over old ways and traditions.
“I think Tevye could easily be a Sikh father, a Chinese father or a Korean father, struggling with the fact that his children who are influenced by Western society are forsaking the age-old traditions.”
And although Tevye isn’t a role Adams has played before, he has seen quiet a few Fiddler productions, and, of course, the film. One of the challenges in preparing for the role, he said, is leaving all that behind.
“You’ve got to forget about what you’ve seen. You can’t really do it like those guys have done it, you’ve got to bring your own thing to it.”
Fiddler on the Roof
•Gateway Theatre MainStage, Dec. 12 to 31 (Dec. 14 opening night)
•Book by Joseph Stein, music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick
•David Adams stars, Christopher McGregor directs
•Tickets, $30 to $48, at gatewaytheatre.com or Box Office: 604-270-1812