If you see Jason Kane slap his face while singing “If I Were A Rich Man” in Fiddler on the Roof, he’s not just expressing his character’s emotion. He may be paying tribute to a performance that ignited his love for the theatre twenty-five years ago. Kane plays Tevye in Lyric Stage’s fully orchestrated production of Fiddler opening the company’s 22nd season Friday September 5 in Irving, running two weekends. Fiddler came looking for Kane when he was in high school. For the adult actor now, performing as Tevye in Lyric Stage’s professional production achieves a lifelong theatrical dream.
Criticalrant’s Alexandra Bonifield interviewed Jason Kane to learn the history of his relationship with Fiddler on the Roof and a bit of what to expect when he takes on the Carpenter Hall stage as Tevye on September 5.
What got you interested in theatre and how did Fiddler “find you”? My parents were not involved with theater; but when I was in 4th grade, my school decided to put on a Fall Festival Talent Show with a Circus Theme. They needed a real outgoing kid to be the ringmaster, so they held auditions to look for one. I didn’t know what was normally involved, but it seemed to make sense to memorize the speech they used for the audition cut. I jumped up on a table at the audition and put on a show. Needless to say, a grade school “star was born”. Later as a high school sophomore in Mesquite, I got cast as the old shop owner in Little Shop of Horrors. While rehearsing one day, the director asked me to “act like Tevye”. I didn’t know what that meant — I didn’t know who that was. The director showed me what to do and seemed really excited by my response. The next year, the drama director chose Fiddler on the Roof as the high school musical, and I found myself, a junior, cast as Tevye. I had no idea what I was getting into.
You say something special happened opening night. Can you describe it? Opening night was scary. I didn’t know if I could pull off this major role. I inhaled a big breath of air and stepped out onto the stage. And then came a blessing. When I felt how warmly the audience responded to Tevye’s lines and my performance, it transformed me…. I had a real revelation. I spent that night in ridiculous ecstasy, suddenly aware of all the possibilities performing offered. By the performance’s end, I realized I had found my calling.
What was different about the second night? I got a dose of reality, an entirely different sort of education. As I started to sing “Rich Man”, I felt air blow across my cheek. I realized the spirit gum wasn’t holding the fake beard on my smooth teen-aged face, but I didn’t dare stop. I stayed in character and somehow got the idea to slap my cheeks in tempo with the song, sticking the beard back down where it should be. The audience noticed the beard starting to fall off, realized what I was doing and cheered me on. I learned how to “save the moment”!
Kane pursued theatre studies in college, earned a BFA from SMU and went on to a diverse stage, voice and film career, which has taken him from New York City to Los Angeles and back home to Dallas TX. Earlier this year, Kane led Mesquite Community Theatre’s cast as Tevye in Fiddler. What surprised you about performing the role again as an adult? How did you like working with Dusty Reasons as the director? What a gift and opportunity that was. Back in May, I head about Mesquite’s audition, so I decided to go for it, not knowing if they had already cast the role. To my delight they cast me. I found playing Tevye again twenty-five years later almost like a reunion, a celebration of the role. Teachers who remembered my performance in high school came out to see me perform it again. I felt so honored by their support. Playing Tevye was more work than I recalled, but very rewarding. I now know how to play moments better, follow scene and character arcs. Amazing how time and experience can inform one’s onstage performance. Both Stage Director Dusty Reasons and Musical Director Mary Medrick trusted me to find Tevye’s moments myself, gave me freedom to explore the character as the adult actor I now am, without trying to mold me into some preconception. It would be easy to “run away with the show” with hammy shtick as Tevye, a la Zero Mostel, the star that made the role famous. But they trusted me to serve the material and ensemble and discipline myself, while still defining the role for myself and leading the cast. An exhilarating experience.
And then along came Lyric Stage’s production? I heard about Lyric Stage opening its season with Fiddler and determined to audition. I had never worked with them before. They could easily cast a major lead like Tevye from a wide array of national talent, fine actors who have performed the role in a professional setting many times before. I went to Lyric’s audition to give them my best shot but not really thinking I would land the role. I had to speed from a lengthy Fiddler rehearsal in Mesquite just to get to Lyric’s audition in Irving. The team had me sing “If I Were A Rich Man” in its entirety and perform the whole “Do You Love Me” scene between Tevye and wife Golda. It was the most warmed up for an audition I’ve ever been! When Len Pfluger called afterwards, offering me the role, I almost didn’t believe it.
How has it felt to work with NYC-based Equity stage director Len Pfluger? Len is incredibly warm and giving as a director, confident. He’s very specific with what he wants, but he also realizes that you are the one playing the character. So there’s a freedom to create, with great assurance riding behind that someone is properly looking after the big picture. He actually wants a bit of the vaudevillian ham to emerge occasionally in my Tevye.
What has it been like to work with Jay Dias as Lyric Stage’s Musical Director? He’s amazing. He immediately proved to me I did not know the show, or my role, as well as thought I did. His intense analysis of how the orchestra works to inform the songs, sometimes moment by moment, or instrument by instrument, opened me up to nuances of interpretation and intensity. He’s helped me find a richer, deeper level with Tevye.
What do you hope your audience takes from the production? Fifty years or so down the road from when this show opened on Broadway, we’re still struggling with cultural traditions as expressed in the show’s theme and song “Tradition”. Whether it’s marriage, religion or politics, we still feel the need to spell things out in black and white. I hope the audience comes away with the feeling that, sometimes, there is something to be said for stepping back, inhaling a big breath of air and looking at life from someone else’s perspective. Recognize and accept that the only thing constant in life is change. And I hope they have a good time!
Bonifield asked Director Len Pfluger how he feels about his Fiddler cast and particularly about Jason Kane as Tevye. He responded, “Such a talented group of actors! This company has bonded even more than usual – even accepting the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge together…all great for creating that tight knit village feeling. Without resorting to some of the predictable ‘shtick’ that a lot of actors employ who play this role, Jason brings a terrific blend of honesty and humor to his Tevye…. As far as casting goes, many actor from around the country expressed interest in playing Tevye for Lyric Stage. Jason Kane, local actor, won the role because he simply was the best!”
It will be a privilege to attend the opening night performance of Fiddler On The Roof at Lyric Stage September 5. Something magical may take place backstage. Just before Jason Kane emerges to start the show as Tevye, he may take a quiet moment in the wings to remember a performance from twenty-five years ago. He will recall how he felt as a high school junior, scared to see if he could really carry a major role and entranced by the special bond of love he discovered with the audience when he threw himself into performing it. Get ready to witness the finest performance of Jason Kane’s career to date.
Lyric Stage opens its 22nd season with FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, September 5-14, 2014, in the Irving Arts Center’s Carpenter Performance Hall. Performances are September 5, 6, 11, 12 and 13 @ 8:00 PM and September 4 & 14 @ 2:30 PM.
ALS ICE Bucket Challenge VIDEO of Lyric Stage’s Fiddler on the Roof Cast: