It may be one of Broadway’s most popular musicals, but there’s no stronger a tradition than mastering the role of Tevye for more than twenty years. I sat down with Baltimore-based actor David Bosley-Reynolds and got the inside scoop of just what it’s like to keep that tradition alive.
Amanda: When did you first take up the role of Tevye and how many times have you played it since?
David: Back in 1991— so 22 years ago— at what used to be The Annapolis Dinner Theatre. I played it twice more after that for them, only they’d changed names and became The Chesapeake Music Hall. Then I played the role again in 1994 at the Timonium Dinner Theatre. It wasn’t until 2003 that I first played Tevye for Toby’s in Columbia. Then once at Toby’s Baltimore in 2007 and now again here at Columbia for 2013 for a total of 7 different runs.
What’s it like adapting the role for theatre in the round?
You get to do all sorts of fun things with the character in the round because if your backside is facing someone it doesn’t really matter. At some point your backside is going to be facing everyone. It’s a nice change of pace because you don’t always have to cheat outward to the audience the way you do on a proscenium stage. And staging in the round is more intimate for the characters and what they’re doing as well as for the audience— it closes us in and invites the audience to watch.
How do you find yourself connecting to the character and his story?
Everyone has to have someone to talk to at some point or another, whether it’s a wall or a supreme being, everyone has those moments in their lives where they talk out loud with their own personal therapist. Tevye talks with his God and I talk to my cats. We’re also both human. Tevye often gives and cares too much and I find myself in similar situations. Being human and being imperfect means that sometimes we both come to conclusions, like Tevye does with Tzeitel and Hodel, and sometimes we don’t, like the situation with Chava. Tevye is a personal character, he even finds himself asking his wife of 25 years, after all that time does she love him? All of his affairs are kept close to the heart.
I’m a rather reserved person in regards to my personal life, so I understand where he’s coming from. Tevye has a strong belief in his religion while I’m not religious. At the end of the day it’s groovy with me because I think — he’s a man of his faith and I’m a man of my own beliefs. I am spiritual. Anyone who has grown up with a belief system finds themselves at some point in life confronted with change and it’s a dilemma that everyone can relate to. It’s the humanity that really connects me, being able to relate so closely to Tevye as just a man helps to bridge the differences in my life and his.
What do you do to get into the character? Any pre-show routines?
Aside from gluing on that gosh darn beard every night? I take a moment to sit on my bed out in the hallway. The bed is out in the lobby right before the show starts and I have a moment and sit down on it, often with Ian, a fellow actor, because I find him very calming. He keeps me grounded and can calm me down if I’m anxious or antsy. As far as getting into the character, he’s a little like Scooby-Doo who lives in Russia, at least that’s where I find the inspiration for the sound that I create. And then I just go with it.
Playing the same role for so long must be challenging to keep yourself from getting bored. What do you do to keep it fresh for both yourself and the audie
Some nights I just force myself to take a different approach to different moments. I really try to always be present and in the moment, so I try to switch it up and pick different moments to focus on. I say my lines as if I’ve never said them before, making them sound new to me and hopefully new to everyone who’s listening. I keep it sweet and simple, especially the conversations Tevye has with his God, letting them speak for themselves and waiting as if I really expect to hear an answer.
What is your favorite part about playing Tevye? Your favorite song?
It’s the humanity. I know I keep saying that but it’s true. It’s seldom that you have a script that is so well written to show the humanity of a character and I really find that to be true here. The way the character is crafted really encompasses his whole journey from beginning to end and it’s just sort of magical.
My favorite scene is the “Chava Ballet” or at least the lead-up to it. Then there’s also the scene directly after the song where I get to vent my emotions at Chava. I like that scene because it shows the turmoil that my character is going through. I’ve done a lot of musical theatre over the years where I end up filling in the gaps that are missing in the script because I don’t feel personally that the humanity of the character is being portrayed correctly, but Fiddler is so well written that we get to see all the many facets of my character in both this scene and the scene that features “Do You Love Me?” – the duet Tevye sings with his wife Golde. Both scenes and the song give us a deeper glimpse of Tevye the man rather than Tevye the iconic musical theatre character. So I guess that makes my favorite song “Do You Love Me?” but I have a lot of fun with “If I Were A Rich Man” too.
If you could be anyone else in the production who would you be?
I’d have to be Motel. He’s the other comic role in the show, and I enjoy Tevye so much because I can bring comedy to him. I have to be comic. I identify as more of an actor who sings rather than just a singer so finding the comedy in a character’s depth is important for me. So it’s Motel.
So there you have it, from sunrise to sunset we’ve got the exclusive piece right here straight from the milkman’s mouth.
You can see David Bosley-Reynolds in action as Tevye in Fiddler On The Roof through April 28, 2013 at Toby’s The Dinner Theatre of Columbia — 5900 Symphony Woods Road in Columbia, MD. For tickets, call (301) 596-6161, or purchase them online.
Amanda Gunther’s review of Fiddler on the Roof at Toby’s The Dinner Theatre of Columbia.