Steven Harvey Hirsch, who plays Tevye in Mysterium Theater’s current production of ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ at the La Habra Depot, has been seen on So Cal stages as Lazar Wolf in Saddleback CLO’s production of “Fiddler,” Mordcha the innkeeper in Irvine Valley College’s “Fiddler,” Scrooge in Saddleback’s “A Christmas Carol,” Herr Schultz in IVC’s “Cabaret” and two recent productions of the “CHOC Follies” on behalf of CHOC Children’s Hospital. He’s a founding choir member at Irvine’s University Synagogue.
JY: Do you feel Tevye is the role you were born to play?
SH: Not born to play it, but I do feel that life has prepared me for the role. First, my maternal family heritage leads straight to the shtetl. My own complicated relationship with the Power Greater than mySelf, my life experiences with love and difficulties, and my musical and dramatic training have combined to lead me to this moment.
JY: You were friends with Theodore Bikel, who was renowned for his Tevye. Did he give you any special insight into the role or share any secrets?
SH: It’s just two days since Theo’s death as I write this, and I am beginning to emerge from the huge sadness and feeling of loss that struck when I heard the news. Theo had become a friend after I reached out to him 17 years ago the first time I played Lazar Wolf. His mentorship and artistic example were more than I could have imagined. What Theo and I shared, separately and together, was a family role model for Tevye. His was the direct knowledge of his grandfather, while mine was the derived knowledge of my great-grandfather, received through my very close relationships with grandparents and two uncles who came from that world. That was the secret that was not really a secret.
JY: Obviously, you can’t just emulate other actors you’ve seen. What’s the key to playing the part and making it work?
SH: You’re right, but watching other actors’ portrayals has been instructive. I particularly admired John Huntington’s Tevye at Saddleback CLO two years ago. The audiences will be the judge of whether my portrayal works, but I think the key is in allowing Tevye’s spirit to flow with honesty, genuineness of emotion, and, of course, humor in the face of adversity.
JY: Why do you think the show continues to resonate with audiences after 50 years?
SH: Probably because audiences over the course of 50 years are refreshed by the influx of new generations of people who have turned from children to adolescents to adults… We all undergo the changes that each phase of life brings. In “Fiddler’s” wonderful telling of old ways changing, and of the realization by the elders, once children themselves, that traditions have only become traditions by virtue of new ways eventually growing old, just as them, the freshness of the story is renewed for each new generation of theatregoers.
Mysterium’s “Fiddler on the Roof” runs through August 30. Call 562-697-3311 or visit Mysteriumtheater.com.