WILKES-BARRE — Long-suffering dairyman Tevye argues a bit with his daughter, Hodel, and the man she wants to marry. He’s not sure this wedding is a good idea. But he thinks about it, consults God and tells the young couple they have his blessing AND his PERMISSION.
Actually, Hodel and Perchik didn’t ask for permission, only for his blessing. But Tevye stresses that last part, to show he’s still the Papa, the head of the family, trying to maintain traditions in a changing world.
Then Tevye stamps his foot to summon his wife. Oh, he’s so domineering, isn’t he?
But a moment later, after he tells Golde about Hodel’s upcoming marriage, Tevye tries to scurry away — as if he’s afraid of what his wife’s reaction might be. Then he asks Golde — oh so tentatively and in song — if, after 25 years of an arranged marriage and five children, she loves him.
Thanks to the subtle changes in voice and body language that veteran actor T. Doyle Leverett brings to the role, it’s easy to see the complexities of Tevye’s personality as the Misfit Players rehearse “Fiddler on the Roof” at GAR High School.
“He’s fantastic,” said cast mate Ian Hastings of Dallas, who portrays the village butcher, Lazar Wolfe.
Leverett has had a great deal of experience with this story of a little Jewish community called Anatevka, where Tevye’s three eldest daughters each marry someone their father did not choose.
The Swoyersville resident, who turns 63 later this month, has appeared in 27 productions of “Fiddler on the Roof,” spanning more than four decades.
“I’ve had every role from Tevye to ‘third Jew from the left,’ ” he said.
“And I wanted to be ‘fourth Jew from the left,’ ” he added with a laugh. “It’s a cruel business.”
The first time he portrayed Tevye, Leverett said, he was 19 or 20 years old and had the lead role in a production at Illinois State University, where he was studying theater.
“My Tevye at that time was a lot more slapstick, leaning toward Zero” Mostel, who played up the comedy of the role on Broadway, he said.
The role has “broadened and deepened,” Leverett said. “I understand love more. I understand fatherhood more.”
He’s not a parent himself, Leverett said — “I really wanted to have children when I was in my 30s but it wasn’t permissible back then for gay people to have children” — but he’s learned from watching friends interact with their families.
Further enhancing his “Fiddler” experiences, Leverett said he had the privilege of working with Sammy Dallas Bayes, a dancer from the original Broadway production who inherited Jerome Robbins’ role of “go-to choreographer” for the show.
“The choreography is almost another character,” he said.
In recent years Leverett, who has appeared on Broadway and in many venues across the country, has considered himself to be retired from acting. He made an exception for the Misfit Players’ community-theater production because he wanted to work with director Alice Y. Lyons.
“I adore Alice,” he said. “I directed her in a couple things and I have such respect for her work.”
Lyons, for her part, returns the admiration.
“He’s easy to work with, talented in so many ways and has great stage presence,” she said. “He takes suggestions, makes suggestions, doesn’t complain and works as hard as he can.”
As a recent rehearsal progressed, younger cast members watched Leverett in action — how his body recoiled a bit when Tevye’s daughter, Hodel, announced she’d be moving to Siberia; how tepidly he shook hands with the non-Jewish man with whom his daughter, Chava, had fallen in love; how his eyes blinked back tears when he told his wife “Chava is dead to us.”
“He expresses his character so easily,” ensemble member Megan Dennis, 13, of Courtdale, said. “It’s amazing.”
Fourteen-year-old Rebecca Frey, of Kingston, said she’s been learning from Leverett and “everybody here. You have to be one with the character. You don’t go just by the book. You think, if this was real, how would I really feel?”
Reach Mary Therese Biebel at 570-991-6109 or on Twitter @BiebelMT
IF YOU GO
What: ‘Fiddler on the Roof’
Who: Performed by the Misfit Players
Where: GAR High School Auditorium, 250 S. Grant St., Wilkes-Barre
When: 7 p.m. Jan. 12 to 14; 2 p.m. Jan. 15.
Tickets: $12, $10