When Michael Bernardi first came out on the stage of the Broadway theater in Wednesday’s matinee performance of “Fiddler on the Roof,” the audience was electric with cheers. Many understood that the actor had waited a lifetime for this opportunity to step out as Tevye.
The son of Hershel Bernardi — who was one of the pioneers of the Tevye role on Broadway — Michael had been playing the role of Mordcha the innkeeper in the Broadway cast, understudying Tevye and the rabbi. While he has played the rabbi before, this was his debut as Tevye.
Wearing the high leather boots that his father wore on Broadway more than 50 years ago, Michael danced and drank L’Chayim, pulled his cart by hand, loved his daughters, cooked up a dream scene for his wife Golde and talked to God a lot, always with strong presence and grace. Sitting on the edge of his well, he mused about being a rich man, singing out in his deep melodic voice.
Michael, 31, was a year and a half old when his father died in 1986 at age 62. As he told The Jewish Week a few months ago, he has been told that when his mother was in labor, his father sang the entire score of “Fiddler on the Roof” to her.
His mother, Teri Bernardi, and his step-siblings, Robin Bernardi and Adam Bernardi, traveled from the West Coast to watch his debut, along with many friends and a full house.
“I see them both as I watch him, as though they are both doing the same things,” he mother said during intermission. “It’s amazing, because he never saw his father in this role.”
“And, he’s also very much himself in the part.”
“He’s very connected to everyone in the show – you can see that on stage. His father was like that,” she said.
She went on to say that like her late husband, her son cares deeply about the Jewish people and taps into that for the role. “He has the same spirit and passion as Heshy,” she said.
Adam Bernardi, a film editor in Los Angeles, who remembers watching his father from backstage, saw both father and son in Michael’s performance. “They have the same roots.”
“We were all in tears,” Robin Bernardi, who runs arts programs for kids, says, after the show. “It was stupendous. He has my father’s heart and soul.”