San Diego

Israeli Actor Yehezkel Lazarov Has Deep Ties to ‘Fiddler on the Roof.’ He Only Found Out After He Got the Lead Role.

"I said yes, and then I understood why," the actor and director told NBC 7 San Diego.

Yehezkel Lazarov. Photo by Joan Marcus 116 WEB
Joan Marcus

Israeli actor and director Yehezkel Lazarov wasn't expecting to get the lead in "Fiddler on the Roof."

It was his agent's idea to submit a tape for the tour of the Tony-nominated musical, directed by Bartlett Sher, in the U.S. "Fiddler on the Roof" tells the story of Tevye (Lazarov), a poor Jewish milkman with five daughters in small Russian village in 1905. 

The show's producers asked for an audition. Then a Skype call. 

Then the producers called Lazarov and offered him the role of Tevye; his whole family would go on tour with him. 

"It was as simple as that," Lazarov said, chuckling. 

But the situation ended up being a bit more complicated: at the time, last fall, the busy actor was performing in a show in Tel Aviv. He was set to direct another show and was working on an exhibition.

Two months before rehearsals for the tour, the actor had to re-arrange his entire life ("Everbody was extremely kind and generous," Lazarov said). 

When he got the role, Lazarov said, he wasn't thinking about the role of Tevye much. For many years, he had directed and acted in plays -- not musicals (though he grew up performing in musical theater). 

"It's not somewhere where I said, 'Oh, that's something I want to do,'" Lazarov said in a phone call with NBC 7 San Diego. 

But Lazarov believes that as a performer and an artist, you have to be open to new opportunities and new possibilities. 

"Me and my wife, we looked at each other and said, 'Okay, let's just do it, let's see what happens,'" Lazarov said. "'Let's not even think about it, because we do not have time to think about it. If it works, it will work. If not, not.'"

When the actor accepted the role and read the full script for the first time, he understood why the role fell into his lap; he immediately fell in love with the musical.

"I said yes and then I undersood why," Lazarov said, explaining his decision. "I started, actually, to fall in love with this character and this process." 

The actor had two months to memorize the song and script before rehearsals began in the U.S. 

Leading up to his departure, Lazarov spent long days in rehearsal for the show he was directing. In the breaks he had, the actor took vocal lessons and worked on memorizing the script for hours. 

The intense hours of work paid off in so many ways, though, the actor explained. In a musical focused around family and traditions, the Lazarov family is building new memories as they tour around the country together with the classic musical. 

"This is one of the most beautiful experiences we've had, artistically and for me as an actor. This role is anything you can ask for," Lazarov said. "As a family, this is one of the best things we've decided for ourselves." 

Lazarov has an agreement with his daughters: in every new city, they come to the premiere. 

"It was like - I'm going to work so hard so the least you can do is to come every premiere," he said, laughing. "I thought they would suffer after a while, but actually, they're waiting (to watch)."

The experience has been unexpectedly beautiful, the actor said, especially because of the actor's deep connection to the play. 

For one, Lazarov grew up in a traditional, religious family in Israel. Many of those traditions - a centerpiece of the story in "Fiddler" - have transformed to modern-day traditions for him. 

"I was a little kid that talked to God every day in the room, standing in the middle of the room, asking God questions, doubting God," Lazarov said. "Until now, I have my own traditions that I do."

The play also draws strong parralels to his own family history, going back generations. 

Lazarov's marriage to his wife parralels the story of Chava and her relationship to a non-Jewish man. In addition, Lazarov's grandmother and grandfather remind him of the family in "Fiddler." His grandparents used to tell him stories of how they escaped from Russia as Jews decades ago. 

Now, nearly 40 years later, he's playing a role directly related to his own history. 

"I have this reflection of who I am in real life and who I am on stage, fighting with each other," Lazarov said. "You can imagine how deeply this story is connected to me and very personal to me."

And the director only discovered the personal ties to his own life and family history after he accepted the role and dug into the script. 

"I didn't have a clue when I got the role and when I said yes," Lazarov said. "I wasn't even thinking about it. That's why I'm telling you: I will do it and then I will understand." 

It's a coincidence that the Israeli actor now sees as destiny, as cliche as it sounds, he said. 

"When things are too crazy that happen to you," Lazarov said, laughing. "Probably, they're meant to be." 

"Fiddler on the Roof" runs from May 28 to June 2 at the San Diego Civic Theatre. Get tickets here. 

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