The most amazing thing in seeing the national tour of Fiddler on the Roof now at the Hobby Center is when 73-year-old Topol comes out on the stage at the start to huge applause and somehow keeps going for the next three hours -- singing and dancing as he plays Tevye, the poor Jewish father trying to scratch out a living in an anti-Semitic Mother Russia. The dancing may not be quite as emphatic as it was in decades past, but the presence of Topol is beyond enormous.
Mary Stout, who plays Yente, the matchmaker, in what is being billed as Topol's final tour -- he's been playing the role off and on since 1967 and he was in the movie version in 1971 -- says Topol is totally invested in the role. As such he keeps himself a little apart from the rest of the company to concentrate on the great demands on him, she says.
"He comes out and does his job. People just go crazy over him. It is his singular own Tevye. I think he tries to make it absolutely real every night.".
Stout counts herself lucky to be in this production (she says Fiddler is one of the top three musicals ever written, right up there with West Side Story and Gypsy) and to be on the road at all. "I had a bad year last year. A lot of people did. And suddenly I got this audition. Four weeks after my cancer surgery ... my agent called and said I have an appointment for you. They think you'd make a good Yente."
She'd done Fiddler in summer stock, playing Golde, Tevye's wife and the mother of their five daughters. But when she went in to read for Yente, she says she embraced the role, realizing it was a good fit for her.
"I just think that the story is so sound, the story is so perfect. I saw it when I was 16 or 17. I wanted to be Hodel, to be one of the daughters," she says, explaining why she thinks the musical continues to draw such crowds of all ages. "That father-daughter thing is so strong in the show. I think the story is just phenomenal."
"It's almost a flawless show, that's why it's done everywhere and it works whether high school or community theater, it always works. You almost can't blow it. Not that we don't have to work hard doing it," she says.
The national company started in February in Wilmington, Delaware "teching" the show there before officially opening in Providence, Rhode Island.
Stout knew from the start that traveling would be the toughest part of the endeavor, but it is still hard to take at times, especially after a five-show weekend. Sunday nights are so hard, she says. "And then we turn around and generally on a one-week, we travel on a Monday. So we have to get up and have luggage call at 8:30 or whatever."
But Stout, who briefly toyed with returning to teaching, doesn't want to be anywhere else but on the stage for as long as she can. She described the Hobby Center as "fabulous" and then got down to what she called the "tricky" part.
"It's a little tricky; they're working on the temperature things. Topol likes it hot and we're roasting," she says of herself and the rest of the company onstage. "And of course it's hot outside."
She mentioned she'd been reading the Press review of Grey Gardens going on at Stages Repertory Theater and was so happy to see that. She's an old friend of Nancy Johnston, who has one of the leading roles in the play. "I was so tickled. She paid her dues. She always has sung so beautifully. She did character things for a long time. Now she's a leading lady again. She's so good."
Fiddler on the Roof, brought to Houston by Broadway Across America, runs through June 7 at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts. For ticket information, go to www.thehobbycenter.org.