by Anna Russell, Associate Director of Marketing
Tony-nominee Jonathan Hadary recently joined us to discuss his performance as Tevye in our holiday production of Fiddler on the Roof. He treated us to a sneak preview of “If I Were a Rich Man,” and shared insights about his career, his childhood in D.C. and his upcoming role-of-a-lifetime.
We understand you've got a bit of history with Arena Stage. Can you share that background with us and tell us what it feels like to come back for Fiddler on the Roof, especially in the round?
My family, we're all from Chicago, but we moved to Bethesda in 1962 when I was in 8th grade. I went to junior-high and high school in the area and a lot of my theater-going as a young man was here at Arena Stage. I saw 18 shows here. I think I saw three in the Kreeger once it opened, but the rest were all in the Fichandler.
I started out ushering. My dad would drop me off since there was no Metro. I saw a lot of shows and I remember every one of them. And for one of them I even remember exactly where I sat and my angle towards the set. In here, it was always a heightened version of theater, instead of a proscenium, to have the audience be the frame. You surround the play. Instead of a frame surrounding it, it's surrounded by the community.
And this play in particular—this musical—I think it's particularly well-suited to this room. I had friends who were in the original production, and I heard bits and pieces of lore from the 3rd and 4th companies, who never met Jerome Robbins, but were told that the choreography was based on a circle—the circle of the community, the circle of the daughters, of the mamas and the papas, and then the larger community, within which these other circles exist. So here we're in a circle to begin with so it's all just elevated in this space. Bravo for doing it!
What's your relationship with Fiddler like? How do you feel about the show?
When my family moved to Bethesda, we went to go see a matinee of Fiddler at the National Theatre the very first week it was here before it moved to Broadway. Zero Mostel was out; he was sick. I remember it vividly—some 4-5 years later I was a working actor in New York and I knew people in the show because it was still running. So I saw it again. I go way back with it. I saw the movie when it came out, but haven't seen the show since. Revisiting it has been a profound experience.
It's a wonderful show. It's better than you remember, and most things aren't! It's about family, it's about tradition. It's about the world changing, it's about nothing having changed. It's set 150 years ago, but it could be set tomorrow.
I've never been in it. And I never entertained notions of playing Tevye until I saw Arena Stage was doing it and I thought, 'Hmm ... I wonder who's playing Tevye.' It turns out, it's me!
And how exciting is that?
I came down to D.C. on Amtrak. And, no one on the train was staring at me, but I kept feeling like people were looking at me because I had this peculiar little smirk on my face that kept returning every time I thought 'I'm going to play Tevye!'
I grew up hearing the Tevye stories of Sholem Aleichem. In fact, my family members could well be characters in the play. So there was a lot of connection to the material.
This whole production, of Fiddler on the Roof, here, for me, brings together an awful lot of threads in my life—my ancestry, my whole life as an actor, my family, my Washington roots, plus it's simply as good a role as has ever been written for a man in the theater. He who gets to do this role truly is a rich man!
Tevye certainly has stood the test of time as one of the most iconic roles in American musical theater. Do you think he has the potential of becoming one of your favorites?
Tevye is a wonderful and quite unusual character to put at the center of a play. He's just a guy. He's not anybody special. He's a wonderful person, but his life is not full of riches or esteem. He's a poor man—a dairy man—he's got a couple of cows, there's a horse offstage, he has a wife, and five daughters. Five. Daughters. Who he has to concern himself with and to see married off well in the world. I mean, King Lear only had three, and look what a tragedy that was!
Tevye is certainly way up there as a role. My other favorites are Herbie in Gypsy, and I did a big production of Guys and Dolls and replaced Nathan Lane as Nathan Detroit. I've been lucky to be an actor for a long time and been lucky enough to play some wonderful parts in big Broadway shows, but it's great to be back at Arena!