Interview: From WIESENTHAL to TEVYE: The Unstoppable, Energizing Tom Dugan

The Wallis inaugurates their new pop-up performance space for live audiences with the world premiere of Tom Dugan’s TEVYE IN NEW YORK! June 23

By: Jun. 17, 2021

Interview: From WIESENTHAL to TEVYE: The Unstoppable, Energizing Tom Dugan

The Wallis inaugurates their new pop-up performance space on the Promenade Terrace for live audiences with the world premiere of Tom Dugan's TEVYE IN NEW YORK! June 23, 2021. Tom co-directs (with Michael Vale) his one-man show on the well-known musical theatre lead character of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF.

Tom managed to find time amongst his many, many writing projects to answer a few of my enquiries.

Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Tom!

What initially inspired you to write a show on Tevye?

Believe it or not, my initial inspiration was having played Tevye in the 1978 Rahway High School production of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF in New Jersey. It was that experience that gave me the bug to become an actor. Years later, after reading Sholom Aleichem's original Tevye stories, I fell in love with the part all over again. The original stories in Tevye Daughters, were much grittier than the musical. That got my wheels turning about what might have happened after Tevye and his family got kicked out of Russia.

How long has the gestation period of TEVYE been?

In the late 90s I had a run of bad luck as an actor - NO WORK. So, in desperation I began to follow the paper trail toward getting the rights to simply adapt Sholom Aleichem's short story about his daughter Schprintze for the stage. I had written only one play thus far, called OSCAR Interview: From WIESENTHAL to TEVYE: The Unstoppable, Energizing Tom Dugan TO OSCAR, which was an autobiographical comedy. It played in Hollywood for about four months and was very successful, but I didn't consider myself a real playwright. Well, that paper trail to get the rights became pretty complicated, and so I dropped the whole idea. It was very frustrating because that meant I was going to have to try to write something original, which I didn't think I had in me. As I began writing original stuff, though, I found out that I did have it in me. Seven original plays later, when I was living in New York while performing my play WIESENTHAL Off-Broadway in 2014 -15, I revisited the idea of a Tevye play, but this time not just as a simple adaptation, but as a brand-new full-length, one-man show inspired by Sholom Aleichem's characters. With the help of my lawyer, I was able to secure the rights from the Sholom Aleichem Family Foundation, and I began writing the script.

Why do you think Paul Crewes thought you and your co-director Michael Vale would work well together?

Paul suggested that putting us both together would result in a hybrid of our styles that might be kind of wonderful. He was right. Michael challenges me to look past the idea of realism into a more imaginative world. Here's an example: my original idea for the set of TEVYE included a staircase, but Michael suggested a fireman's pole might be more fun. Michael brings a sense of whimsy to the process that I kinda love.

Have you held any workshop readings of TEVYE before this world premiere?

Interview: From WIESENTHAL to TEVYE: The Unstoppable, Energizing Tom Dugan You betcha! Dozens of them. In fact, I believe readings are my secret weapon. I've travelled all over the country doing readings of my scripts and getting honest feedback from strangers. These readings help me trim out unnecessary dialogue, bringing more clarity to the script.

Have you finalized the dates for TEVYE's run?

Yes, previews begin on June 23, and we open on June 26 running throughout July with the possibility of extending into August.

You've done over 500 performances of WIESENTHAL. What highlights of your New York premiere at the Acorn Theatre in 2014 (which was captured on video) do you cherish?

Being in a Daryl Roth Production is an experience every performer should be lucky enough to have. Everything was first class. Highlights? Well, having PBS tape, and broadcast WIESENTHAL throughout the Eastern Seaboard was nice. Being nominated for both the Drama Desk and The Outer Critics Circle Awards was a real perk. Being recognized at Sardis made me lightheaded, and at the opening night party Dr. Ruth kissed me. Other than that, when I saw the poster for WIESENTHAL hanging from the lamp posts along the Thanksgiving Day Parade route, I thought I was dreaming. Not bad for a play that began in my garage.

Interview: From WIESENTHAL to TEVYE: The Unstoppable, Energizing Tom Dugan This isn't the first time you've collaborated with The Wallis. Your Jackie Kennedy project JACKIE UNVEILED premiered there in 2018, and just this past October, The Wallis presented your award-winning one-man show WIESENTHAL virtually. Was your onstage WIESENTHAL in 2015 the first time you collaborated with The Wallis?

Yes. The New York production of WIESENTHAL (directed by Jenny Sullivan, and produced by Daryl Roth) kicked off the National Tour at The Wallis. Things went very well there, and a bit later I approached Paul Crewes, The Wallis' Artistic Director, about hosting a reading of my next play THE JACKIE KENNEDY PROJECT. That went well, and they added the play to their 2018 season. The current iteration of that play, TELL HIM IT'S JACKIE starring Kait Haire begins its national tour in December. It was after another Wallis reading a couple of years ago of TEVYE IN NEW YORK! that Paul and I decided to keep the party going and premiere it here in Beverly Hills.

What factors aligned for TEVYE IN NEW YORK! to be chosen to be the first show The Wallis is offering for live audience attendance?

TEVYE IN NEW YORK! was originally slotted to premiere at The Wallis in 2020, but something got in the way, I forget what (ha ha). Seriously I believe that because TEVYE is a one man show with a relatively simple set it was a practical choice for the new terrace theater on the beautiful Wallis campus.

What is your three-line pitch of TEVYE?

Interview: From WIESENTHAL to TEVYE: The Unstoppable, Energizing Tom Dugan TEVYE IN NEW YORK!, based on Sholom Aleichem's beloved characters immortalized in FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, takes up where the original stories left off. Follow Tevye as he and his daughters make their way across the Atlantic Ocean, through Ellis Island, past "the big green lady," and into the gritty melting pot of 1914's Lower East Side of Manhattan. I don't know if that is three lines, but it's my elevator pitch.

You've been acting professionally in Los Angeles for over 25 years. What made you decide to start writing in 2010?

I moved to Hollywood in 1982, so next year I'll have been working in Los Angeles for 40 years (pardon me, I think I have to lie down). In 2003 while touring with Jack Klugman in ON GOLDEN POND, I learned how many beautiful theaters there are in the U.S. and Canada. I paid close attention to how touring shows worked. I thought that touring in a one-man play would be a nice side business while I continued auditioning for film and TV. In 2004, with the help of my booking agent friend Ralph Pavone, who urged me to write a play on a popular topic that could travel easily, I premiered THE TRIAL OF ROBERT E. LEE at The Carpenter Center in Richmond, Virginia. It was a big success. After that, I wrote and directed Frederick Douglass in THE SHADOW OF SLAVERY, starring Mel Johnson Jr. (LION KING, Total Recall). WIESENTHAL came next, then THE GHOSTS OF MARY LINCOLN, TELL HIM IT'S JACKIE, and TEVYE IN NEW YORK! My nice side business became my full-time job. I don't even audition anymore because, happily, these plays I've written take up all of my time.

Interview: From WIESENTHAL to TEVYE: The Unstoppable, Energizing Tom Dugan You've one of the daring few to offer live performance with in-person audiences during these quarantine times. Last month you offered live performances of THE GHOSTS OF MARY LINCOLN in the backyard of your own home in Woodland Hills. Did everything go safely and smoothly?

Yes, Dugan's Backyard Playhouse. My family and friends helped with the box office and house management. We kept it safe with only sixteen masked audience members per performance. Temperatures were taken as people walked in, hand sanitizer was everywhere, and groups were seated in pods. Everyone on the production side were tested often, and we had everyone's email address in case we needed to contact trace, which we never did. Our first production was the new version of my JACKIE play called TELL HIM IT'S JACKIE starring the brilliant Kait Haire. We ran for two months and sold out every performance. What really surprised me the most was that our publicist, Philip Sokoloff, was able to get reviewers to come to my backyard! Both my JACKIE show and my MARY LINCOLN play got rave reviews. The Los Angeles Times even came!

As a long-time active member of the Los Angeles Theatre community, what changes have you seen in the L.A. theatre community since you first mounted a L.A. stage? (Pre-pandemic, of course).

Interview: From WIESENTHAL to TEVYE: The Unstoppable, Energizing Tom Dugan When I first got here, theater was really only for showcase purposes. Something to invite agents and casting people to. The quality of the productions wasn't very high. Now, L.A. is a theatre kind of town. Actors are still showcasing themselves, but the quality of the work has really improved.

Do you see a light at the end of the tunnel for small theatres in L.A.?

Oh, yes! Other outdoor theaters are popping up, and I suspect that we'll be inside again by September or sooner.

Any word on when the theatre groups you've involved with (Colony Theatre and Theatre 40) opening up for live shows?

Sadly, The Colony Theater, as a producing house went the way of the dodo bird a few years back. As far as I know, Theater 40 will be back in the Fall. I'm a member of The Group Repertory Theatre in NoHo, and I know that Doug Haverty (the artistic director) is beginning to produce again.

What's in the near future for Tom Dugan?

I'm so glad I have an answer for that; WIESENTHAL is going to be busy, as I'll begin touring with that again in the Fall, with performances at the North Coast Playhouse, and in Boca Raton, Florida. It looks like WIESENTHAL will finally be made into a feature film produced by Dan Kaplow (The Haunting of Hill House, Joe Exotic), and the WIESENTHAL playscript was just published by Bashert Books! (available on Amazon). TELL HIM IT'S JACKIE has just Interview: From WIESENTHAL to TEVYE: The Unstoppable, Energizing Tom Dugan committed to a winter run in Southern Florida, and THE GHOSTS OF MARY LINCOLN is looking for a home for this coming Halloween. Finally, I have very high hopes for success with Tevye In New York! at the Wallis and beyond.

Thank you again, Tom! I look forward to seeing your TEVYE live and in person at the Wallis.

For TEVYE IN NEW YORK! tickets for attending performances in person through July 25, 2021; log onto