Tevye (Robert Joseph Miller, C) describes his nightmare to his wife in Wagon Wheel Theatre’s production of ‘Fiddler on the Roof.’ Photo by Gary Nieter, Times-Union.
Tevye (Robert Joseph Miller, C) describes his nightmare to his wife in Wagon Wheel Theatre’s production of ‘Fiddler on the Roof.’ Photo by Gary Nieter, Times-Union.
To prepare for his role as Tevye in Wagon Wheel Theatre’s production of “Fiddler on the Roof,” Robert Joseph Miller has been growing out his beard for several months.
“I stopped trimming the beard at the end of March,” he said in an interview Monday afternoon. “Although, that was when I intentionally stopped. But there was a couple of times, you know if you’re used to facial hair sometimes you’re not thinking and get out the scissors in the morning and it’s like ‘Oh!’ Then I have to trim it. But I’ve been growing it longer and longer since March.”
He stopped cutting his hair in April.
“All of it is way out of control as far as I’m concerned,” Miller said.
“Fiddler” runs through July 26 at the Wagon Wheel. After the last show on the last day, he said he would probably do some major trimming to his beard and hair.
It’s a far cry from his role as Edna Trueblad, the mother, in Wagon Wheel’s production of “Hairspray” in June 2011 where he had to shave and cut his hair often.
“One extreme or the other,” Miller joked.
He described the role of Tevye as the main character, a father and a Russian Jew in the late 1800s in a little town called Anatevka.
The musical is based on “Tevye and his Daughters” (or “Tevye the Dairyman”) and other tales by Sholem Aleichem. Miller said he hasn’t read any of those since high school.
“In the short stories the big difference is, in the musical I have five daughters. In the short stories there actually are seven,” he said. “So they cut it down for expediency. I have enough trouble remembering the five daughters.”
Tevye’s daughters are Tzeitel, Hodel, Chava, Shprintze and Bielke.
The themes of “Fiddler on the Roof” are tradition, change and family.
“It’s a great learning experience because he’s a devout Jew in a very devout community. And it’s about a time period when everything is changing for them,” Miller said. “He’s a working-class father. He’s an intelligent man, but he also has a great heart.”
Tevye has five daughters, while Miller has just one, but Miller said he sympathizes with Tevye.
“I get the whole father-daughter thing,” he said. “His faith is constantly pulled into question by being a parent. It’s that yin-yang thing of the new versus the old. The song ‘Tradition’ is about their traditions, but it gets bigger and bigger and there’s a lot of atonement over the – no pun intended – over the changes that are occurring because the 1890s in Russia were a tumultuous time for the Jews.”
The Jews, who had settled in Russia for centuries, were being ostracized and kicked out at that time, Miller noted.
Debuting in 1964, “Fiddler on the Roof” was one of the first Broadway musicals to have a run of more than 3,000 performances. Miller said it may still be the 10th longest Broadway show in history, factoring in the revivals.
“It is one of those musicals that you know half the music. You just know it. You know these songs. You know ‘Tradition.’ You know ‘If I Were A Rich Man.’ You know ‘Do You Love Me?’, all these sweet little songs that are from this show. I think, and (Artistic Director) Scott (Michaels) always says this, and I have to agree with him, it is quite possibly the best book for musical theater in American musical theater history. It just has a tremendous book for it. The story is so compelling and so intelligent. It’s just a very good show,” Miller said.
The music for “Fiddler on the Roof” is by Jerry Bock, with lyrics by Sheldon Harnick and book by Joseph Stein.
The show and its themes apply to our time now, Miller indicated. There are moments now where it’s very relevant.
“It’s the cycle of life. It’s the old and the new, the young and old. It’s constant change and turmoil, so I think it applies very well. I always say this is a show that more people connect with because Tevye is such a base character to everybody’s psyche because he is just a working-class father. When you boil it down, he’s not portrayed as a dummy or anything. He’s actually a very intelligent man as most working-class men are. He’s just trying to do the best he can, and that’s what most of us do every day,” Miller said.
Even though this is the first time Miller has played Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof,” he said people have told him he was great in the role before.
“I have wanted to play it for quite a long time,” he said. “It’s funny because everyone assumes I’ve done it before. I’ve never done it before. You would think that as long as I have been that heavy character actor that I would have done it.”
For years at the Wagon Wheel, Miller said people would come up to him and compliment him for playing in “Fiddler.” If they said they liked it, he would just politely say thanks. If they didn’t, he would tell the person that he wasn’t in the show.
“So now I’ve got to be good to make up for all the compliments I’ve already gotten,” he joked.
Miller said “Fiddler” is one of the “war horses” of Broadway that everyone should see, and if you have seen it but it’s been a long time, you should see it again.
“It really is one of those great shows like an ‘Oklahoma!’ or a ‘South Pacific,’” he said. “The important thing is, this is the first time it’s been done here since 1990. This show has not been done since I started here and I’ve been here 23 years. It was done the last time a year before I came, and it is one of those great shows that you can see again and again and always enjoy.”
To see the full interview with Miller, visit the free video section of the Times-Union at www.timesuniononline.com
Tickets range from $15 to $34. Discounts are available for college students and on designated performances for seniors. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.wagonwheeltheatre.org or call the box office at 574-267-8041.