Michael Bernardi recently made history when he stepped into the role of Tevye, a character that his late father, Herschel Bernardi, made famous nearly 50 years ago in Fiddler on the Roof. On most nights he can be seen serving up drinks as the surly bartender, Mordcha in the current Broadway production which ends its run on December 31, 2016.
You are currently in Fiddler on the Roof– how is that going?
It’s fantastic. I mean, we are coming toward its close so it’s kind of like the last week of camp. Everyone is very nostalgic and sentimental, but the truth is Fiddler on the Roof, you have to fight against the sentimentality because it really pulls the heartstrings, but if there was ever a show that was created for closing, it was Fiddler on the Roof. So you know, people are emotional.
What are you going to miss most about the show?
First thing that pops up is basically the daily visceral reminders of what life is all about. Every day I go to the theater and whatever I am going through, or life is presenting, I always seem to find a place to ground myself and to remember what is important. And just thinking about my family and my ancestors and what it is to be alive and what it is to embrace life and so you can’t really perform this show without having those reminders pop in and kind of cleanse yourself. I will be missing my daily spiritual cleanse.
Your father, Herschel Bernardi was famous for playing Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. What was it like your first time stepping into that role?
Like jumping out of an airplane. It was the greatest acting lesson I ever had because as much as me playing Tevye and wearing the same boots as my father wore when he played Tevye, we are both doing it on a Broadway stage. As much meaning was packed into that and as fulfilling – life‑fulfilling of a moment as it was, ultimately, the most important thing that needed my focus was telling the story. So I found myself in those moments just feeling at times overwhelmed by how powerful it felt to be on a Broadway stage and be wearing those boots and be shaking and singing “Rich Man” doing my Biddy‑bums.
I found myself having to let all of that go and just trust that that was there because the truth is my job is to be a milkman with five daughters and not to tell the story of Michael Bernardi and you know, the powerful genetics that happened to be on my father’s side – but to tell the story of Fiddler on the Roof and I found a lot of freedom in that.
It’s pretty cool that you got to take on the same role that your dad did years ago.
Yes. I would say so. You know, it’s interesting. I went through so many emotions doing that. Especially having not known my father since he passed away when I was so young. I found myself looking to people to just get some advice or to connect with, because it felt like a rare situation to be in and I found that not a lot of people really know what it is to be in a situation like that. And so it made it very personal and at times I felt a little lonely in it as well. But in a really beautiful way, it’s the greatest –