Fiddler national tour, lead actor preserve traditions of the show

Fiddler national tour, February 2011

By Marshall Weiss, The Dayton Jewish Observer

Joan Marcus
John Preece as Tevye

On Sept. 22, 1964, an improbable musical about Jewish peasants in pre-revolutionary Russia opened at New York’s Imperial Theatre.

Almost 50 years since that opening, Fiddler on the Roof remains one of the most successful and widely produced musicals around the globe.

The show, which wrestles with the value of tradition, has established artistic traditions of its own.

Audiences expect to see Jerome Robbins’ original choreography and Boris Aronson’s Chagall-like sets. It’s as much a part of the Fiddler experience as the songs by Sheldon Harnick and the late Jerry Bock, and the clever book by the late Joe Stein.

In 2004, when British director David Leveaux led the team that re-imagined Fiddler’s choreography, costumes and set design for its fourth Broadway revival, it left audiences and critics underwhelmed and confused.

“There were a lot of changes that were made that I didn’t really agree with,” says John Preece, who plays the lead role of Tevye in Troika Entertainment’s 2010-11 national tour of Fiddler.

Preece has played Tevye professionally more than 1,600 times, including on nine national tours.

This production is directed/choreographed by Sammy Dallas Bayes, the dance captain of the original 1964 Broadway production.

“Jerome Robbins was his mentor and they did a lot of work together,” Preece says. “We do the original choreography and the original staging, and the costumes are based on the original costumes, and the sets — everything.”

Bayes, he says, is also the representative for the Jerome Robbins estate. “He’s gone to different countries and seen different productions where they’re paying the royalties to Fiddler on the Roof,” Preece says, “and he gets there and the show is totally different and he says, ‘This is really interesting but I’m afraid you can’t do this show.’ They keep a pretty strong finger on it.”

Preece, who has also played Lazar Wolf the butcher in Fiddler nearly 1,600 times as well, has gone on as Tevye for Theodore Bikel in Bayes’ productions, and for Topol in his American farewell tour in 2009.

“He injured himself and had to leave, and I came in and took over for him for a couple of weeks,” he says. “And then Harvey Fierstein came in and took over. I had to go on for him when he was out.”

Over the four decades Preece has performed in Fiddler, he observes that audience reactions have remained constant. “When it opened, it had a certain meaning for most people when they saw it and I think that still rings true with them today. All of the things that are going on in the show are still going on in the world.”

The national tour of Fiddler on the Roof: Feb. 2, 7:30 p.m. at Clark State Performing Arts Center, Springfield, tickets available at 866-PAC-TKTS or Feb. 15-27 at the Aronoff Center, Cincinnati, tickets available at 513-621-2787 or

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