Skip to main content Skip to footer site map
Click Here for More Articles on FIDDLER ON THE ROOF

REMEMBERING THEO - a Memorial Concert for Theordore Bikel


Actor, vocalist and activist Theodore Bikel died July 21, 2015 at age 91 in Los Angeles. He will be remembered in a memorial concert in New York City, titled "Remembering Theo - an evening of music, laughter and love," September 27 in The Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College (68th Street between Park and Lexington Ave.). The evening will feature musical performances by many of Bikel's friends and treasured colleagues including musical greats David Broza, Peter Yarrow, Frank London, Lorin Sklamberg, Debra Straus, Jeff Warschauer, Zalmen Mlotik, Hazzan Mike Stein, Hankus Netsky, Daniel Khan and the "Fiddler on The Roof" Alumni Ensemble. Speakers will include Sheldon Harnick, Aimee Ginsburg Bikel and Rabbi Amichai Lau Lavie.

Theodore Bikel was an Oscar- and Tony-nominated actor and folk singer who played Tevye in "Fiddler on the Roof" in over 2000 performances and originated the role of Captain von Trapp in "The Sound of Music" on Broadway. He was also an accomplished film and TV actor and a long-time president of Actors Equity Association. Mr. Bikel was also a well-loved recording artist with a career spanning seven decades, who sang in 22 languages. Many of his Yiddish, Jewish and Folk Song recordings were chart-toppers. In 1959, he co-founded the Newport Folk Festival, where he frequently appeared with the likes of Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Peter, Paul and Mary and Joan Baez.

Bikel escaped from Austria to Palestine with his Jewish family during World War II. His family were long-time Labor Zionists and his father had named him after the Zionist leader Theodor Herzl. "Theo" made an auspicious stage debut in 1943 in a play by Sholom Aleichem, "Tevye the Dairyman" (on which "Fiddler on the Roof" is based), at the Habimah Theatre in Tel Aviv. He was to co-found the city's Cameri Theater a few years later.

Bikel then traveled to London to study at RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art), where he caught the attentions of Peter Ustinov and Sir Laurence Olivier and began an outstanding acting career that inevitably brought him to America for a career specializing in European characters. His latest film, "Theodore Bikel in The Shoes of Sholom Aleichem," has been showing in film festivals in the States and abroad.

In the '60s, Bikel immersed himself in civil rights causes, protested the Vietnam War and was an activist in the Democratic Party. He was a hands-on President of Actors' Equity Association from 1973-1982. He worked to preserve the Yiddish language and was an ardent, though not uncritical, supporter of Israel. Throughout his life, he represented an alternative voice to mainstream American Jewish attitudes toward the Jewish State. In his autobiography, he noted "The American Jewish response to Israel is woefully monolithic. We who are so capable of intricate thought are almost boorishly insistent about viewing the complexities of Israeli society and political makeup through a one- channel, narrow prism."

A long-time activist for peace and human rights in the Middle East, Bikel was Chair, from 2005 until his death, of Partners for Progressive Israel (, a 501(c)3 and NGO that introduces Americans to Israeli groups and organizations which are successfully working to bring Israel to a progressive, socially responsible path. The organization is presenting this memorial evening as a benefit for its Theodore Bikel Fund for Peace and Social Justice. That Fund was established in his memory in 2015 to affirm Bikel's legacy by wedding the arts and social activism. It offers scholarships to young intern-activists who volunteer to work in Israeli nonprofits advancing Civil and Human Rights, Social and Environmental Justice, and Women's and LGBTQ Rights. The interns then use their creative talents to generate written, film and educational materials to advance these causes.

A keepsake Memory Book will be created giving participants an opportunity to share their memories of Theo. More information on how to participate is available at

The evening will also celebrate the release of Bikel's new CD, "While I'm Here" (Redhouse Records). Produced by Grammy winner Cathy Fink and Hazzan Mike Stein, it is a two disk celebration of Theo's life in spoken word and music. The project was recorded in the final months of his life. In Disc 1, Bikel tells autobiographical stories and sings songs. Disc Two is a 17-song retrospective from his early work in the 1950s to his last recordings made during his 90th birthday concert. The set includes a 22-page booklet with historical photos.

David Broza (Israeli singer-songwriter and activist)
Peter Yarrow (Peter, Paul and Mary)
Frank London (Bandleader of The Klezmatics)
Lorin Sklamberg (musician, vocalist and founding member of The Klezmatics)
Debra Straus & Jeff Warschauer (Strauss/Warschauer Duo, Klezmer Conservatory Band)
Zalmen Mlotik (Musician, Conductor and Artistic Director of National Yiddish Theater-Folksbiene)
Hankus Netsky (Founder/Bandleader of Klezmer Conservatory Band, Musical Director of this event)
Hazzan Mike Stein (Grammy winner, cantor of Conservative Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills, CA)
Daniel Kahn (Klezmer band Daniel Kahn & The Painted Bird)
"Fiddler on The Roof" Alumni Ensemble (Tamra Hayden, Sue Cella, Eileen Tepper, Vanessa Lemonides, John Preece, Michael Iannucci, Nick Rafaello, Jonathan Hadley. Includes Tevye's daughters who performed with Theo.)

Tuesday, September 27, 2016 from 7:30 PM to 9:30 PM
The Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College (68th Street between Park and Lexington Avenues), NYC.
Tickets begin at $18. Go to or call 212-242-4500 to buy tickets and/or put a memory in the Memory Book.

Related Articles

Featured on Stage Door

Shoutouts, Classes & More

From This Author Liz Cearns