World Premiere of ‘Tevye in New York!’ launches outdoor performance pace at The Wallis

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Tevye (personified by Tom Dugan) shares tales of his life from Russia to the Lower East Side in search of his American Dream. (Lawrence K. Ho)

Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts has re-opened for live theater performances with the World Premiere of TEVYE IN NEW YORK! now playing Tuesday through Sunday at 8 p.m. through Sunday, July 25 in The Wallis’ pop-up outdoor terrace performance space. Written, co-directed, and performed by Tom Dugan (The Jackie Kennedy Project, Wiesenthal) and co-directed and designed by Michael Vale, this one-man show, based on the beloved characters of Sholem Aleichem, imagines the life of Tevye and his family during as well as after the curtain comes down in Fiddler on the Roof. 

Set on July 4, 1914, ‘Tevye in New York!’ follows Aleichem’s beloved milkman as he prepares to announce the opening of his personal American dream, taking us from his journey with his daughters across the Atlantic Ocean, through Ellis Island, past “the big green lady,” and into the crowded streets of Manhattan’s Lower East Side. 

As he waits for the parade to pass by his dairy cart location, Tevye does what he does best – talk about himself – especially the hardships which he and his family endured that have led to this point in his life. And when he finally makes his often-referred-to big announcement at the end of the play, it winds up adding in a much-needed moment of comic relief after all the tsuris he has endured to get there.

But don’t expect Dugan’s ‘Tevye in New York!’ tale to match the well-known timeline of Fiddler on the Roof as many changes have been made, most notably the addition of a sixth daughter born in Russia who travels to America and decides to cross-dress on the ship to have an easier time living as a man. 

In fact, one of the most joyous moments in the play happens when Tevye’s eyes light up as he recounts holding his child’s hand during Orthodox Jewish religious services on the ship since being dressed as a boy allowed her to worship next to her father for the first time. 

I appreciate that Dugan added frequent comments in Yiddish to the show, which added a real authenticity to Tevye’s moods, given the descriptive way in which the language can effectively communicate exactly what the speaker is feeling, both the good and not so complimentary about other people and circumstances. Thankfully, I understand enough of the language, having been raised around my own four grandparents who all travelled to America from Eastern Europe in the early 20th Century. In fact, it was easy for me to imagine some of them could have been customers at Tevye’s dairy cart on Delancey Street!  

Scenic and costume design by co-director Michael Vale combine elements of the well-known and much- loved main character’s traditional clothing with a very modern, open level, wood plank set design upon which Dugan climbs to denote the different locations of the stories he is telling. 

It’s quite a workout for the talented actor, who continues moving and speaking without a moment taken to pause to catch his breath or take a sip of water. And with a run time of 90 minutes, that is quite a tribute to his health and vitality!

Outdoor lighting design by Elizabeth Harper shifts to denote time of day or change of mood, with surround sound design by Cricket S. Myers blending authentic background noise of the streets of the lower East Side in with the Beverly Hills traffic noise, which often had me looking around to see where a dog was barking or people were walking by talking. 

There were a few points during the performance I attended when Dugan held lines as loud cars raced by to allow the audience to hear his lines, which I greatly appreciated.  After all, the play takes place in 1914, so those modern car sounds would not have been appropriate for him to comment upon. 

A firm commitment to the health and safety of artists, staff, and patrons is being followed for ‘Tevye in New York!’ The outdoor performance space has tiered seating and infrastructure to house lighting and sound, and accommodates 100 socially distanced audience members each night. The Wallis is following Covid safety precautions regarding disinfecting the entire site before and after every performance, mobile ticket delivery, and programs only shared digitally. 

Performances are shown without intermissions to increase safety, with a bottle of water provided at each audience seat. No other concessions available. Daily health screenings and temperature checks are required for all staff, artists, crew, and vendors, with all onsite personnel wearing face masks consistently but only required by audience members when visiting the indoor bathrooms.

Entrance to the outdoor venue is near the corner or Canon Drive and Santa Monica Blvd. There is no on-site valet parking available, with the venue’s underground parking lot open for self-parking as well as street parking available in the area. Please note posted parking restrictions carefully and arrive early as there is no late seating. Tickets for Tevye in New York! are $75 each. For further information and to purchase tickets, please visit TheWallis.org/Tevye, Tickets@TheWallis.org or call 310-746-4000 (Tuesday  through Frday. 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.)

World Premiere of ‘Tevye in New York!’ launches outdoor performance pace at The Wallis