Fiddler on the Roof - National Tour

The musical that raises its cup to joy! To love! To life!

Fiddler on the Roof Star John Preece on Keeping Tevye’s ‘Tradition’ for More Than 40 Years

About the author:
To say that John Preece has made Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof his signature role is an understatement. Over the course of four decades, Preece has appeared in more than 3,400 performances of the beloved musical and has played the staunch milkman and father of five daughters some 1,700 times. As Preece hits the road in his tenth national tour, he examines what it’s been like immersing himself in the Jewish faith and allowing Tevye to sink into his DNA.

Back in 1969, while I was working on my masters degree at Southern Illinois University, I played Lazar Wolf in a summer stock version of Fiddler on the Roof. This was my first introduction to the show; I had probably heard the music at that point, but the movie hadn’t yet come out. As I continued acting and did more regional theater, I found myself in other productions of Fiddler playing Lazar Wolf and understudying the lead role of Tevye. My first time going on as Tevye, I was 25. I was a little young for the role, but I was a character actor. I’m not really the Curly in Oklahoma! type.

My first impression of Fiddler was what a great role Tevye was. I realized that when I got a little older, this was a role I really wanted to do.

In 1990, I was cast in my first Troika Entertainment production of Fiddler by Sammy Dallas Bayes, who is the unofficial director of the Jerome Robbins estate when it comes to Fiddler. Because of Sammy’s faith in me, I haven’t done a lot of auditioning over the last 20 years. I just kind of answer the phone and take the call. It’s great. If I’m available, I go, no matter what the situation is. I don’t audition; I don’t try to sell myself, like most actors have to do. I just do what’s offered to me.

I have never found it difficult to keep the show fresh. First, it’s our job to do that. The script is too involved and contains too many emotions and situations to just walk through it. You have to be in the moment in order for it to work and to get the response from the audience that you want. When you get out there and you start going through the show, once that music starts and the opening number, “Tradition,” begins, it fills you with a sense of responsibility and pride in what you’re doing. Then you’re off and running. That said, when I go into a rehearsal period for four weeks in New York, it’s pretty tedious for me to sit and watch the rest of the cast learn their lines. I could recite the entire script right now.

Fiddler has become my religion of choice. I wasn’t born in the Jewish religion. I try to live my life according to some of their teachings. It’s really a tribal thing; you need to be born into it. Being from the outside looking in, I look to the way the Jews treat each other and respect their families. I’ve studied it quite a bit. It makes me proud of what they do. I find a connection with how Tevye treats his family. I don’t have children of my own, but I have five daughters on stage. I end up living with them on the road. I take care of them as best I can.

Fiddler on the Roof is a very fulfilling show to be a part of. This is history. And aspects of this story are still happening today. I’m sure there are parents out there whose daughters are marrying people that they wish they weren’t, but they give into it because they want their children to be happy. They’re going through what Tevye went through during that period. Portraying this history to parts of the country who may have known nothing of the events of that time is quite rewarding.

See Preece when Fiddler on the Roof comes to Indianapolis' Murat Theatre March 6 through March 11.

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