Topol, currently starring in Fiddler on The Roof, The Farewell Tour in North America, starred in the original West End production in London in 1967 and the 1971 film. His performances and incarnations of Tevye are beloved and the tour has been selling-out in every city The Farewell Tour appears.
But I can't get Zero Mostel out of my mind.I've been fascinated and drawn to the unquantifiable magnetism that is Mostel since I was a child. Naturally I was too young at the time to realize it was Mostel who voiced the villain in The Electric Company's LetterMan cartoon vignettes...I would experience the full comedic force of Mostel first in Mel Brooks' The Producers, and be forever hooked and fascinated.
Merely a gleam in my father's eye when Zero Mostel created the role of Tevye the milkman in the original Broadway production in 1964, I heard Mostel's voice before I ever saw him---either on film or live-- on an LP cast recording of Fiddler my parents owned (or was it an 8-Track tape? I distinctly remember 8-Tracks my parents had. They included the soundtrack of Cabaret, a Tom Jones collection, and a Johnny Mathis collection, but I digress...) It wasn't until I was treated to the 1976 revival of Fiddler that I was able to witness Mostel live, and "hooked and fascinated" was signed, sealed and delivered forever. I was a card-carrying Zero Mostel fan for life.
His presence was impressive and alarming. I consumed everything I could find on Mostel; I learned of his black-listing and prosecution by the House Un-American Committee; I learned about his early comedic career in coffee houses in New York City; I fell in love with his art and his paintings; I wished I had seen his stage performances in A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM, Ionesco's RHINOCEROS and so many other live performances, but had to feed my fandom and study of his work with his films, some good, some not-so-good. For many years I owned a 16mm print of THE PRODUCERS.
I can't explain why a particular actor captures my imagination, except that somehow, their presence provides a kind of comfort. It's almost that simple.
Zero Mostel was the first Tevye in the original production directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins. It was Mostel, out of enormous respect and love for the work of Sholem Aleichem, that the mood, style and feeling of Aleichem was worked into the musical. Mostel brought major contributions to the show, including the origination of the "cantorial sounds" that are now inseparable from songs such as If I Were A Rich Man.
He would win a Tony Award for his work, along with co-star Maria Kamilova. Others in the original cast included Beatrice Arthur as Yente, Austin Pendleton as Motel, and Bert Convy as Perchik. Mostel's script for Fiddler, with his margin notes and sketches, is kept at the New York Library of the Performing Arts.
For me, Zero is Number One!