Monday, November 16, 2009

The Fiddler farewell tour

Imagine -  playing the same role for 40 years.
I think about these things, because I am in a "job transition," and feeling the pressure of making the right choice, as if it might last for 40 years.  Lord knows I can expect to be working 40 years from now.

Topol, at 74, 2500 performances and one amazing motion picture later, is retiring Tevye.  He says.   This weekend, the Fiddler farewell tour blew out of Boston and shuffled off to Buffalo.

A friend said to me, "Topol?  Does he perform with a walker?!"  He does not.  The Topol you remember from Norman Jewsion's 1971 film -- the one and only Reb Tevye -- was 36.

At 36, did he have any expectation that he would perform this role for the rest of his life?  That this was the "role he was born to play," as articles about him and the work often claim.  Was his calling calling?  Let's assume that he didn't -- that there was no expectation that Fiddler would last even as long as the Rodgers and Hammerstein canon.  That perhaps it would go the way of Pippin and Godspell, a go-to play for high schools and teens for God (which it certainly has) and that Topol would enjoy an Israeli popstar career and eventually land a permanent spot on the Vegas strip. 

Let's assume he was throwing everything he had into that role (and the film version shows this so well, with the intense close-ups of his personal struggles with his wife, his daughters, their men, and his beloved but illusive God) thinking it was a temporary position and a resume builder at best.  It is remarkable to see a youngish man show the respect for his role and his co-stars when he may have thought it was a temporary assignment. 

Now flash forward - 40 years - to that same respect for that same role, now with the added wisdom of what a 25 year marriage might be, and what it feels like to watch the world change before your eyes.  And he still brings it.  Topol says, " This is what we actors have to do. We have to convince you that whatever we do or say is for the first time. Or else it's a bore. "

Yesterday on a phone interview, I tried to convince someone that what I was saying was for the first time.  I tried to bring the enthusiasm of a first-timer and the wisdom of a lifetime to a simple conversation about the little show this company is trying to fit together.  And needs me to bottle-dance through.

Another lesson from Topol, if you have a moment.  In the interview with the Oregonian, cited above, Topol also makes it clear that Fiddler is not his life.  What matters even more to him is a program called Jordan River Village, the Israel branch of Paul Newman's Hole in the Wall Gang camps for kids. As a UK trustee of the organization, Topol wants you to know that this is the most important thing he does.

And now, your moment of Zen:

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