During his ongoing tour of "Fiddler on the Roof" -- which launched in February in Wilmington, Del., closed Sunday at the Pantages, and opened Tuesday night at the Orange County Performing Arts Center -- star Chaim Topol, 73, has missed only six of 175 performances in his signature role of Tevye the dairyman. It's being billed as Topol's "Farewell Tour" in the part he has portrayed since age 30.
Unfortunately, five of those missed performances were in Los Angeles, causing much consternation among local theater patrons who expected not just to see another production of "Fiddler" but also their idol Topol -- whose name was prominently billed above the title (that is, Topol in "Fiddler on the Roof").
Topol missed the July 26 matinee, giving the theater (and ticket holders) less than half an hour's notice that he would be unable to perform. The star then missed both the matinee and evening performances on Aug. 2 and, in the show's final weekend, dropped out of the Saturday and Sunday matinees as well.
Topol did perform Saturday and Sunday night, but because the Saturday and Sunday evening performances were sold out, matinee ticket holders were not able to exchange their tickets but rather had to decide whether to get refunds or take their chances on seeing the performance with understudy David Brummel, who regularly plays the role of Lazar Wolf.
Valerie Fields of San Bernardino had rounded up a group of 35 friends and family to attend the Sunday matinee. Although she and her group were notified several hours before the show that Topol would not perform, they decided to attend anyway since they could not exchange their tickets.
"If we'd known the matinee was cursed, we'd have planned differently," she said in an interview. "The understudy was wonderful, but . . . he wasn't Topol. We can always find a production of 'Fiddler on the Roof' -- but we had planned and paid for Topol."
All in all, Topol missed five of 24 Pantages performances. There were 301 ticket exchanges processed for people who were scheduled for one of the first three performances affected by Topol's absence. For the engagement as a whole, 640 tickets were refunded.
Orange County Performing Arts Center refused to comment on whether there were concerns that Topol would miss performances there.
Jennifer Howey, chief strategy officer of Troika Entertainment, manager of the tour, said Tuesday that the actor had been hit with "a little bug" during his Los Angeles stay and that he missed the most recent weekend matinees because a doctor had ordered Topol to rest his voice. "It's just unfortunate that he needed his little vocal rest in Los Angeles," she said.
Howey said there were no plans to change or abbreviate Topol's performing schedule as the tour continues. The final stop is Portland, Ore., where the show is scheduled to be onstage at that city's Civic Auditorium from Aug. 25-30.