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Tevye is Back — and in Beverly Hills

The legendary milkman will reappear on June 23 at the Wallis, but this time he'll have the stage all to himself, absent his wife, daughters, sons-in-law and lame horse.
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June 21, 2021
Tom Dugan prepares for the World Premiere of “Tevye in New York!” Photo courtesy of the Wallis

There is good news for lovers of “Fiddler on the Roof” (and who isn’t?) –Tevye is coming back for a new chapter of his life– and in Beverly Hills, yet.

More precisely, the legendary milkman will reappear on June 23 at the Wallis, but this time he’ll have the stage all to himself, absent his wife, daughters, sons-in-law and lame horse.

Left alone to propel the action is Tom Dugan, who triples as writer, co-director (with Michael Vale) and star in the world premiere of “Tevye in New York.”

In the final scene of “Fiddler on the Roof” Tevye and most of his clan fled Anatevka in the face of a 1909 Russian pogrom and along with thousands of other East European Jews settled on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

When “Tevye in New York” opens, it is July 4, 1914 and Tevye, now a proud American citizen and dressed like the small businessman he has become, is waiting for the upcoming Independence Day Parade, led by President Woodrow Wilson himself.

While selling pickles from a barrel and hawking ice cream bars, Tevye entertains  the neighborhood merchants and residents with the story of his life and explains the difference between living in Russia and New York.

In Russia, he says, when they say, “Good Morning” they mean, “go to hell.” In New York, when they say, “go to hell” they mean “Good morning.”

Also, while Jewish life in Russia was marked by constant bad luck, in America ”you make your own luck.”

A Mrs. Murphy in the multi-ethnic crowd asks what kind of language Yiddish is, and Tevye explains, “In Yiddish you can say a lot with a little …plotz, kvell, tuchis, chutzpah.

Tevye now runs a small grocery, while his daughters work in the garment district and were witness to the disastrous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911. He goes into partnership with one of his daughter’s suitors from the old country, Lazar the Butcher.

For the festive opening of the joint enterprise, Tevye asks a sign painter to prepare a banner spelling out “Tevye’s Grocery featuring Lazar Wolfe’s Meat.” Regrettably, the painter is not a grammatical speller and the banner reads, “Tevye’s Grocery featuring Lazar’s wolf meat.”

Tom Dugan, 60, is a versatile actor, writer and director, who during a 40-year career has written, directed and performed in some 50 films and television shows.

One of his most successful stage shows was as Simon Wiesenthal, in which he wrote about and played the famed Nazi hunter and received an award for best solo performance by the LA Drama Critics Circle.

Since Dugan is of Irish descent, the Journal asked him how he came to write about and play such profoundly Jewish characters as Wiesenthal and Tevye.

“My wife Amy is Jewish, our children are Jewish and we are all members of Temple Judea in Tarzana,” Dugan explained. “Also, my father served as an American infantryman in Europe during World War II and I asked him a lot of questions about what happened there.”

Or perhaps his future course was set in 1976, when his high school in Rahway, New Jersey put on “Fiddler on the Roof” and Dugan was cast as…Tevye.

“Tevye in New York” will break new ground by becoming the first play at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts at its brand new pop-up outdoor terrace.

“Tevye in New York” will break new ground by becoming the first play at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts at its brand new pop-up outdoor terrace.

Paul Crewes, artistic director at the Wallis, said the outdoor performing space has tiered seating for 100 “socially distant” audience members each night, in addition to space for lighting and sound equipment.

As a bonus, the audience will in effect serve as the merchants and citizenry listening to Tevye on the Lower East Side.

The London-born Crewes said that the last 15 months had been extremely difficult for theater companies worldwide, but he hoped that by next year they would rebuild their audiences. In any case, he said, the Wallis would follow the tradition of England’s Old Globe Theatre in Stratford in staging outdoor performances of Shakespeare’s plays.

There are no definite plans at this point for bringing the play to New York or other American or European venues, or make it into a movie. Much will depend on the critical and commercial reception of the play during its initial run, with ticket sales very encouraging so far, Crewes said.

“Tevye in New York” will run June 23 through July 25. For the June 23-27 previews, tickets are $60 per person, thereafter $75 per person. Tickets may be ordered by calling the Wallis box office Tuesday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. tp 2:30 p.m. at (310) 746-4000, or online at Tickets@The Wallis.org. There will be no day of the event ticket sales available.

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