By Ellen Braunstein, Special to Chicago Jewish News
Yehezkel Lazarov, one of Israel’s leading film and TV stars, remembers as a child walking with his grandfather on Shabbat morning to a synagogue an hour away in a town where he used to live.
His grandfather told him stories along the way of the family’s escape from Russian pogroms, how they arrested his great-great grandfather.
Lazarov weaves his family’s past into his role as Tevye, the impoverished milkman who wrestles with G-d, his outspoken daughters and his community, in the national tour production of “Fiddler on the Roof.”
Performances of the iconic musical run through Jan. 6, 2019 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre in Chicago. The year-long national tour follows a Broadway revival that marked the 50th anniversary of the opening of the musical on Broadway.
While the Broadway role was originated by Zero Mostel, it was later made famous on both stage and film by another Israeli, Chaim Topol.
“The history of this play is something I relate to, it’s part of my blood,” Lazarov said of the anti-Jewish pogroms. As portrayed on stage, the violence took place in the fictional Ukranian village of Anatevka, a typical shtetl in the Pale of Settlement of czarist Russia.
Lazarov, 44, and father of three daughters, has a deep connection to playing Tevye. “Because it’s a Jewish character and me being Jewish, I don’t have to adjust myself. There’s a certain layer that you grew up with, that you were born with.” He speaks of a layer of memory, coming from a religious family, believing in G-d. He remembers himself talking to G-d, as does Tevye, asking Him questions. “It’s something I remember doing myself all the time until today.”
Lazarov has played leading roles in more than 40 films and television programs including ‘The Mentalist,’ ‘Mama’s Angel’ and the Israeli films ‘The Kindergarten Teacher,’ ‘The Debt,’ ‘Fragile,’ ‘Waltz with Bashir,’ which received the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film, ‘Three Mothers,’ ‘A Touch Away’ and the ‘Dybbuk.’
Lazarov is also the artistic director and founder of Studio Ankori Middle and High School for Creative Thinking and Entrepreneurship. “It’s a platform for me to fulfill all the things that I love in art. I’m doing adaptations of my own shows, decorating the sets and doing the choreography.”
He has been on stage since he was 8 years old, starting as a tap dancer. At the age of nine, he watched ‘A Chorus Line’ on VHS and knew exactly what he wanted to be. “Coming from a religious family, my two brothers were basketball players. I was in the middle wanting to do ballet. It was hard for everyone to understand at first.”
His tap teacher was one of the most prominent choreographers in Israel and took young Yehezkel to the shows he choregraphed. “So naturally being on stage brought me into acting and I continued doing that.” In high school he did theater and after graduation sang in a military band. Then he joined the Batsheva Dance Company, one of the foremost dance companies in the world. From dancing 20 years ago, he got into film, TV and theater. In the past decade, he has mostly been performing and directing.
He was performing the role of the director, Zach, in ‘A Chorus Line’ in Tel Aviv when he heard from his agent in Israel that they were looking for a Tevye for the tour production of the Broadway revival of ‘Fiddler on the Roof.’ “They asked me to send in an audition so I sent them ‘If I Were a Rich Man’ and they liked it.”
Introducing ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ to younger generations is something he finds “amazing.”
“Part of the process of going to this role is to understand the political situation behind this. It’s like the symbol of the immigrants today, refugees, people needing to flee their homes.”
After ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’ Lazarov will return to Russia to shoot the second season of ‘Mentalist.’
“I get addicted to being busy,” said Lazarov, who hardly ever sleeps. “I don’t know how to live differently because I love so many things and it was always important to me to fill all my needs so I got used to it.”
Tickets to ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ through January 6 can be purchased at www.cadillacpalacetheatre.com/