Saturday, 15 December 2018

From dashing TV cop to Jewish fiddle player

We meet Paul Michael Glaser, who swapped Starsky and Hutch for Fiddler on the Roof.

WHEN Fiddler On The Roof opened on Broadway in September 1964 it was hailed as an instant classic of the musical theatre and went on to run for more than 3,000 performances.

At the time, Paul Michael Glaser was a busy young actor trying to make a name for himself in New York and the show only just registered on his radar. Years later, he got a part in the film version. So there is a kind of symmetry to the fact that at the age of 70 he has been cast in the leading role of a new stage production which will tour the UK next year.

He said: “The producers got in touch with my agent in England and asked, ‘Would I be interested in playing Tevye?’ I said I’d love to do it. What’s not to like about playing such a part? I’ve never seen the complete show (although I knew the movie version of course) so I’m not as familiar with Fiddler On The Roof as I thought I was.

“I was a young actor, doing a play in New York with the British actor Donald Pleasence. We were appearing at a venue next to the theatre where Fiddler On The Roof was playing — the two stage doors were opposite to each other. I happened to be seeing a girl in the Fiddler company and since my show finished about 10 minutes before the end of Fiddler, I’d quickly get changed and meet this young lady and we’d stand in the wings and watch the last five minutes of the performance every night.”

The romance may not have lasted but the connection with the show was maintained when Paul was cast as the tutor and Bolshevik revolutionary Perchik who falls in love with Hodel, one of Tevye’s daughters, in the 1971 film version of the musical.

The show is famous for Bock and Harnick’s score including such standards as If I Were A Rich Man and Sunrise Sunset. The story is based on Joseph Stein’s adaptation of the short stories by Sholem Aleichem which captured life in a Jewish “shtetl” or small town in early 20th century Tsarist Russia.

The hero of the tales, Tevye the dairyman, is much troubled by the need to find suitable husbands for his five daughters. In London, Tevye was played by the Israeli actor (Chaim) Topol who became closely associated with the part.

“For years, I’d find myself humming a tune and it would be a song from Fiddler On the Roof,” said Paul.

“For one thing, it has an amazing score. For another, it’s a universal story which everyone can understand. It’s about the everyday problems which we all have and how we manage to deal with them, how we achieve a certain sense of well-being. But it also means a great deal to Jewish people in particular.

“It’s a tale told by Tevye, a story that reflects Jewish history in a very poignant way, in particular about the Jewish diaspora, the scattering of the Jews around the world. But it also celebrates the spirit of mankind and the desire to identify with one particular group. Tevye is a gigantic part and I’m really enjoying the role. It’s also given me an excuse to grow a beard.”

The show, currently on tour, is directed by Strictly Come Dancing judge Craig Revel Horwood, who brings to the show his penchant for using actors who can also play musical instruments. This show will feature 20 different musicians. The choreography, though, remains the original as directed by the late Jerome Robbins.

Although Paul has added film directing (he has made five features including The Running Man with Arnold Schwarzenegger) and now writing to his skillset, he began as an actor. What inspired him to go on the stage?

“Acting for me was a way of finding out who I was. To my mind, acting, the playing of a character, has always been a process of taking off masks rather than putting them on. As a young man, I didn’t have a clue who I was and I thought that acting was going to help me find out. At my age, I’m fortunate in having a sense of myself which permeates everything I do.”

In 1975, Paul landed theleading role opposite David Soul in the American cop series Starsky And Hutch. It ran for a further four years and it established both men as international stars.

“I think that it finally dawned on me that I was always going to be associated with the series and I have made peace with that fact,” he said. “People said that the show worked because of the chemistry between David and me and I’m proud of what we achieved. Both David and I wanted to do a really good job with Starsky And Hutch but we were working for an organisation that told us that we’d be fortunate to make three or four good programmes out of the 20 or 25 we made.

“David and I felt that the proportion between good and bad should be reversed — 20 good ones and only a handful of bad ones. We worked hard to achieve some degree of truth in our relationship.

Paul has been a frequent visitor to these shores over the years but latterly it’s been for professional reasons as well, playing Captain Hook in Peter Pan in Bromley and giving his Abanazar in Aladdin in Sunderland. He said both characters, dyed-in-the-wool rotters, were immense fun to play. But there’s another English anti-hero he’s keen to play.

“I don’t have a list of parts which I want to play but I have always enjoyed My Fair Lady,” he said. “Perhaps I’ll be asked to do Henry Higgins one day.”

Fiddler On The Roof will come to the Wycombe Swan on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 until Saturday, February 1. For tickets call 01494 512000 or visit

Actor Paul Michael Glaser, forever engraved in our hearts as the dark one from Starsky And Hutch, plays the lead role in a new production of Fiddler On The Roof coming to the Wycombe Swan next year. He told AL SENTER all about how he first discovered the role.

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