Tevye’s first major appearance on the English-language stage happened in 1957 with the debut of Arnold Perl’s Tevya and His Daughters at the Carnegie Hall Playhouse. At that time, the character was advertised as “Don Quixote (and Sancho Panza); he is Chaplin’s Tramp; he is Job with a sense of humor. He is the Eternal Jew, his shadow as long as the Jewish Exile, his laughter as warm as the sun. He is the obstinate, indestructible, individualist, Tevya [sic] the Unextinguishable.” Perl made him “a kindhearted naif who could be steered away from his hidebound beliefs by sound reasoning and appeals for justice … as eager to make his daughters happy as he is receptive to their newfangled values” (Alisa Solomon, Wonder of Wonders, pages 73-74).
As familiar as that version of Tevye sounds, “Perl’s was a Tevya without tension. Nothing was at stake for him or the play because he made no effort to hold fast to his religious practice in the face of change. That was a dramaturgical problem the mainstream reviewers could not excuse … and it also was the reason the show found no traction with Jewish audiences.” The show closed in mid-November after only a 6-week run (Alisa Solomon, Wonder of Wonders, page 74).