22 Montrose Voice / Sept. 23,1983
Herschel Bernardi Has Seasoned Love Affair with 'Fiddler'
By Robert Hyde
"The sun never sets on Fiddler," Herschel
Bernardi said in an interview this week
just hours before he dashed over to the
Music Hall for sound testing for the opening night of Fiddler on the Roof. "Somewhere, at any given time, Fiddler in being
staged in some part of the world."
"In fact, the Japanese have made it a
staple in their repertory," he said, mentioning that a touring company trans-
verses that nation three months out of
"How come it's such a success in America when it's so Japanese," Bernardi said
he had been asked. "But the Japanese
appreciate its symbolic quality, whereas
Americans have to have everything
spelled out And then they appreciate its
patriarchal values," he added, "and its reference for tradition. Most of theirs went
down the drain after World War II."
"And the play is immortal," Bernardi
said, and he is grateful for that. After Zero
Mostel stepped down from the original
Broadway production in 1965, Bernardi
has been almost constantly associated
with the play, even though he lost the
movie role to Topol. But the play has kept
him busy, when many actors on both the
east and west coasts are sitting by their
phones being "up-fors," as Bernardi calls
An offspring of Jewish "gypsy" parents
who immigrated to this country in 1902
and began acting for the Yiddish stage, at
52, Bernardi has all the charm necessary
to make his role as the loveable, exasperated Tevye an enjoyable experience. With
thinning hair, luxurious Yiddish beard
and a prominent nose, his commanding
physical presence is due more to the
warmth than emanates from the man
rather that from his stature. He is easy to
talk with, easy to smile.
It is also easy for him to boast. When
asked how he felt about being regarded as
the definitive Tevye, he said, "There's no
question. My background and talent make
me ideally suited for this part."
Born in New York City, Bernardi made
his acting debut at three months when he
was snatched from a steamer trunk to cry
on cue in one of his parents' productions of
Yiddish theater that played throughout
the country. During the Depression years,
he appeared in his parents' plays and
landed juvenile roles in two Yiddish
movies. After studying at the New York
School of Industrial Art, he headed for
Hollywood but met with grim success on
the road to stardom when "that nose" was
an affront to the movie moguls of the era
only interested in handsome leading men.
"I was a young ugly," Bernardi recalls.
"Today, that's a very good thing to be, like
Pacino and Hoffman. But not then!"
In the early 50s, Bernardi returned to
New York and performed in one-man
shows for various Jewish organizations
while he drove a cab through Manhattan.
A break came when he replaced friend
Howard DaSilva in The World of Sholom
Aleichem at the Barbizon Plaza Hotel in
New York and toured with the show for
two years. When the show closed in Los
Angeles, Bernardi received several television offers then finally landed the role of
Lt. Jacobi in Peter Gunn and from there
appeared in such films as Irma La Douce
with Shirley McClaine and Jack Lemmon
and Love With the Proper Stranger with
Natalie Wood and Steve McQueen.
Then he became disillusioned with Hollywood. Frustrated and unfulfilled, he
returned to New York where Fiddler was
soon his for over two years and for 705
In the years since and despite his starring roles in television's Arnie and in Man
of La Mancha, Fiddler on the Roof
remains foremost in his heart.
"The part is closer to me now that it ever
has been," Bernardi said almost reverently. "AfteraU, 1,'m 17 years .qlder than.,,.
when I first played Tevye, and the role
Herschel Bernardi (right) and Thelma Lee as Golde in "Fidler on the Roof"
matchmaker; Motel Kamzoil, a poor tailor,
and Lazar Wolf, a wealthy butcher, both
wanting to marry Tzeitel, Tevye's oldest
daughter; and a host of other endearing
characters who bring so much life and
beauty to this ageless musical.
The universal appeal of Fiddler is due in
part to the warm and wonderful book by
Joseph Stein, to the smooth and melodic
music by Jerry Bock, to the simple yet
strong lyrics by Sheldon Harnick and, in
this case, to Jerome Robbins' direction
and choreography flawlessly reproduced
by Ruth Mitchell and Tom Abbott, respectively.
There were many musical highs in this
production. "Tradition," a wonderful song
and the opening number, underscores a
major theme of the show, and the entire
cast came alive with a strong musical
blend of very fine voices. "If I Were a Rich
Man" is Tevye's glorious oneman musical
anthem. "Sunrise, Sunset," sung at the
wedding of Motel and Tzeitel, has neither
sounded nor been presented more beautifully than in this production. "Do You
Love Me," a duet with Tevye and Golde,
brought one of many tender moments to
Throughout the play, Tevye watches in
agony while three of his daughters marry
for love instead of through the traditional
process of being paired by the matchmaker. But his values of tradition are
pushed to the breaking point when daughter Chava marries without his permission
a man not of their faith—a delicate subject
at best. But then Fiddler is such a very
humanistic musical that it tapB the gamut
of your emotions from loads of laughter to
doses of sadness.
Seldom has there been such a totally
well-suited cast. They emote and Hve on
stage as if they had beeritransported back
becomes richer over the years," he stated,
adding that his own life experiences have
helped him better define his character.
"I also have less fear of acting now," he
A very close friend of Barbra Streisand,
he attributes her influence as a giant step
in his overcoming stage fright.
"Barbra taught me such a lesson." He
smiled, remembering. "She has a direct
line from her heart to her throat. There's
no fear in that woman! And it's that element that I'm getting more and more of,"
Then he spoke of doing Man of La Mancha again and possibly Death of a Salesman, both projects in the back of his mind
when he will not be playing the role that
taps his soul.
□ 'Fiddler' Reviewed
By Joe L. Watts
Herschel Bernardi, billed as the world's
greatest living "Fiddler," is in Houston
this week enchanting audiences in hiB
starring role as the indomitable Tevye in
Pace Theatrical Group's presentation of
the National Touring Company's Fiddler
on the Roof. The longest running musical
in the history of Broadway is based on
stories by the Russian Jewish writer, Sholom Aleichem, and is set in Anatevka, an
impoverished village in Czarist Russia
just prior to the revolution.
Anatevka's residents are some of the
most delightful characters to be seen in
the history of musical comedy: Tevye, the
complaining but lovable dairyman who
has reared five daughters according to
scriptural wisdom and sometimes his
own; Golde, his stern but caring, superstitious wife, who hopes for rich husbands
for their daughters: Yente, the village
in time to the village of Anatevka. Most of
the players (including Mr. Bernardi) have
performed in the Broadway and touring
companies of Fiddler over many years, yet
they all remain fresh and spontaneous.
Herschel Bernardi has a lived-in quality
in his performance. He doesn't just play
Tevye, he is Tevye. His portrayal is a classic, and the standing ovation he received
was richly deserved.
Thelma Lee has some remarkable
moments as Golde. Ruth Jaroslow is ideal
as the matchmaker —a campy, warm and
Several additional bright spots in this
stellar cast were Charles Bari's stuttering
Motel, Paul Lipson's winning Lazar Wolf,
James Werner's Perchik, the revolutionary student who comes to Anatevka with
new ideas—an excellent young actor—
and Robert Yacko's Fyedka (a gentile)
who falls in love with Chava (Tina Para-
diso), a really fine performer.
In a changing age full of divorce and
therapy, Fiddler on the Roof bring a
renewed celebration to the simple elements of life: tradition, love, marriage and
The show plays at the Music Hall
through Sunday, Sept. 25. If you can still
get tickets, treat yourself to a joyous experience. You deserve it.
d The Art of Dining
By Joe L. Watts
In celebration of the fifth anniversary of
the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, which
is awarded annually to a woman who has
written an outstanding work for the
English-speaking theater, five Houston
theaters will produce during the 83/84 season the plays which are finalists for the
prize. Main Street Theater (2540 Times
Boulevard—in the Village) is first in line
with Tina Howe's The Art of Dining, a
comedy about food and eaters.
Ellen and Cal (Mr. & Mrs.) have borrowed $75,000, and he has given up his law
practice to open the Golden Carousel Restaurant for gourmands. Both have a different purpose in mind. Ellen wants to
"turn on" people and cause them to "go
mad" and "just die" for her wonderful cuisine. Cal is hoping to make a fortune from
his wife's culinary talents, but perhaps
even Btronger is his insatiable love for her
cooking or for any food in general. So
guess who's coming to dinner?
First there's a married couple who
peruse the menu referring to differnt items
with sexual innuendos and toasting each
other with "to your long, curly eye lashes"
and "to your lovely white thighs," suggesting just how erotic and sensual food
and dining can be.
Next comes a neuroticyoung female writer who lives in a weird world all her own
and meets for the first time a publisher
who is considering publishing her short
Then a campy tribeof three ladies arrive
who come to sink their teeth into the duck,
veal and bass. But who ordered which?
The fight to claim the best looking dish is a
funny one, as they pig-out while discussing their nonexistent diets.
Playwright Howe has caught our obsession, need and relationship with food and
it's effect on our everyday existence and
lifestyle—an interesting premise, but she
doesn't delve very deeply into that relationship. Puffy potatoes but very little
The banquet nine-member cast is
mostly cooked to order and served nicely
by director Rebbeca Greene Udden. Ruth
Getts and Charles Tanner, as Ellen and
Cal, are quite good and convincing in their
roles, especially Tanner, who brings a fine
comic feeling to his character.
Powell and Roy Hollingsworth are
enjoyable as the erotic dining couple.
Charlotte Stanton, Dorothy Edwards and
Terri Branda are triumphant as the dieting ladies and Reason the production with
Rome of if s better laughs.