Playing the most iconic character in one of Broadway's biggest musicals ever is a huge thrill for Yehezkel Lazarov, but that's only a part of the reason why "Fiddler on the Roof" is such an important story to him.
"I come from a Jewish family that left Russia because of the pogroms," said Lazarov, explaining how his grandparents' real-life situation mirrors the central theme of the 1964 Broadway smash by Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick and Joseph Stein. "My grandfather and grandmother went through that, so the story is very emotional for me. It hits me in a personal place."
Lazarov, a 46-year-old Israeli native who still lives in Tel Aviv, plays Tevye in the national touring production of "Fiddler" coming to Proctors for six days beginning Tuesday night. The character portrayed by Theodore Bikel and Zero Mostel on the Broadway stage and by Chaim Topol in the 1971 Hollywood film, Tevye is a patriarchal and pious Jewish milkman living with his wife and five daughters in early 20th century Russia.
"I know what tradition means and in terms of Russian Jews the show is about balancing that tradition with everything else you're dealing with," said Lazarov. "I think that's something everyone can relate to."
Lazarov is a well-known actor/director/teacher and visual artist in Israel who created his own arts school seven years ago for grades 7-12. He was busy with that and a number of other projects in his homeland when the opportunity to portray Tevye in "Fiddler" came up in September of 2018.
"I was in the middle of a show I was performing, and there was another show I was going to direct," he said. "We had to move things around and reschedule a few things, but everybody was very nice. It was quite an amazing period actually, and this show was something I could sign on for a lifetime. We're celebrating 460 shows already and I'm just starting to enjoy it."
Hebrew is Lazarov's primary language, so preparing to play Tevye required him to learn all of his lines again in English. While he hasn't seen a Broadway production of the show, he is a big fan of the movie.
"I'm very familiar with the movie, but I didn't go back and watch it when I got this role," he said. "When you do such a role you can't be imitating someone else. You have to find the character in your own way."
Lazarov has played leading roles in more than 40 films and television productions in Israel, Russia and France, and has been performing since he was 8. He also was a dancer and a singer in a military band, and left Israel after high school to study at the Actors' Centre in London.
"I have been singing and performing my whole life," he said. "When I was 8 I saw a musical in Tel Aviv, and then I saw another musical and since then I've never taken a vacation from it. I'm always on stage."
Musicals don't dominate his schedule, but Lazarov said he's happy to be a part of any kind of theater that raises important issues.
"Singing is not the thing I feel most comfortable doing, so it is not my forte," he said. "But if that's how a musical tells the story than I do it. I love musicals that have a political and social point of view."
He says selecting his favorite musical is hard to do.
"Well, I should say this one, but 'Fiddler' and 'Cabaret' are two of my favorites," said Lazarov. "They both have a real message. 'West Side Story' is another musical with a message. They all tell very important stories, and that's what I look for."
"Fiddler on the Roof" won nine Tony Awards when it made its Broadway debut in 1964. Among its more memorable songs are "If I Were a Rich Man," "Sunrise, Set," "Matchmaker, Matchmaker" and "Tradition."
'Fiddler on the Roof'
WHERE: Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady
WHEN: Tuesday through Sunday; performances are at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, 1:30 and 8 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $90.75-$20
MORE INFO: (518) 346-6204 or visit www.proctors.org