Paul Michael Glaser exploded on to our TV screens as hard-bitten policeman David Starsky but his first connection with his current show Fiddler on the Roof was a touchingly romantic one.
The Starsky and Hutch star who inspired what seemed like a million wrap-round cardigan sales here in the mid-1970s is playing the lead role of Tevye in a production of Fiddler on the Roof that is coming to the Lyceum Theatre in Sheffield next week. Strictly Come Dancing star judge Craig Revell Horwood is directing the show.
Paul said that his connection to Fiddler on the Roof dates back to the 1960s.
“I was a young actor, doing a play in New York with the British actor Donald Pleasence,” he said.
“We were appearing at a venue next to the theatre where Fiddler on the Roof was playing – the two stage doors were opposite to each other.
“I happened to be seeing a girl in the Fiddler company and since my show finished about 10 minutes before the end of Fiddler, I’d quickly get changed and meet this young lady and we’d stand in the wings and watch the last five minutes of the performance every night.”
The romance may not have lasted but the connection with Fiddler on the Roof was maintained when Paul was cast as the tutor and Bolshevik revolutionary Perchik in the 1971 film version of the musical. He falls in love with Hodel, Tevye’s second daughter.
“For years, I’d find myself humming a tune and it would be a song from Fiddler on the Roof,” said Paul.
When Fiddler on the Roof opened on Broadway in September 1964, it was hailed as an instant classic of the musical theatre and it went on to run for over 3,000 performances.
Bock and Harnick’s magnificent score – including such standards as If I Were A Rich Man, Matchmaker Matchmaker, Sunrise Sunset, To Life and Tradition – and Joseph Stein’s adaptation of the short stories by Sholem Aleichem perfectly captured life in a Jewish shtetl or small town in early 20th-century Tsarist Russia.
The hero of the tales is Tevye, the dairyman, who is much troubled by the need to find suitable husbands for his five daughters.
In London, Tevye was played by the Israeli actor (Chaim) Topol, who became closely associated with the part. He played Tevye in the film.
Paul said he jumped at the chance of taking on the lead role.
“What’s not to like about playing such a part? I’ve never seen the complete show, although I knew the movie version, of course, so I’m not as familiar with Fiddler on the Roof as I thought I was.
“Studying the script, parts of it came back to me.”
Although the show has a feel-good factor, it depicts the dark history of Jewish persecution in the infamous Tsarist pogroms, yet retains global popularity.
Paul believes there are several reasons for that.
“For one thing, it has an amazing score. For another, it’s a universal story which everyone can understand.
“It’s about the everyday problems which we all have and how we manage to deal with them, how we achieve a certain sense of well-being.
“But it also means a great deal to Jewish people in particular. It’s a tale told by Tevye the milkman, a story that reflects Jewish history in a very poignant way, in particular about the Jewish diaspora, the scattering of the Jews around the world. But it also celebrates the spirit of mankind and the desire to identify with one particular group.”
He joked that the role had also given him an excuse to grow a beard.
In 1975, Paul landed a leading role opposite David Soul in Starsky and Hutch.
The show ran for a further four years and it established both men as international stars.
It’s the role that most people still recognise Paul for.
He said: “I think that it finally dawned on me that I was always going to be associated with the series and I have made peace with that fact.
“I was too much on the inside of Starsky and Hutch to be able to have the necessary perspective to analyse the show and say why it was so successful.
“People said that the show worked because of the chemistry between David and me and I’m proud of what we achieved.”
He added: “Both David and I wanted to do a really good job with Starsky and Hutch but we were working for an organisation that told us that we’d be fortunate to make three or four good programmes out of the 20-25 we made.
“David and I felt that the proportion between good and bad should be reversed – 20 good ones and only a handful of bad ones. We worked hard to achieve some degree of truth in our relationship.
“Starsky was a very interesting character and I was able to play him on many different levels. I was able to explore a whole range of possibilities.”
Former teenage cardigan owners would certainly agree.
Fiddler on the Roof is at the Lyceum next week from Tuesday to Saturday.
Tickets: from the Crucible box office, go online at www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk or call 0114 249 6000.