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A Trip to the Theater

Topol - Farewell TourThere are a handful of people in America who are so well known that they are recognized by only one name. Some examples are Cher, Madonna, Hillary, and Rush. For people who have paid attention to theater for the past 40 or more years, there’s another man who is recognized by only one name: “Topol.”

His full name is Chaim Topol, and he’s an Israeli theatrical and film actor and singer. He is best known for his role as Tevye in the stage and film productions of Fiddler on the Roof. In 1972, he won a Golden Globe Award for his performance in the film.

During the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, Topol reprised the role of Tevye in London, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. In 2009, he played the role of Tevye in a “farewell tour” that took place in the United States. In June of that year, my wife and I took several of our children to see Topol perform in Fiddler on the Roof at the Oriental Theater in Chicago.

The show was magnificent. Although Topol was 73 years old, he had the energy and stamina of a 25-year-old man. During intermission, we all agreed that God created Topol to play the part of Tevye.

If you’ve ever been to a production at a theater, you know that at the end of the show there is a “curtain call.” Wikipedia defines a curtain call as a final bow that “occurs at the end of a performance when individuals return to the stage to be recognized by the audience for their performance.”

The curtain call at the end of Fiddler was what you would typically see, with one unexpected twist. As usual, the performers paraded onto the stage to be recognized by the audience. Of course, the last performer to appear and take a bow was Topol. Then he and all the performers held hands and bowed one last time. The curtain then came down.

But the curtain call wasn’t over. Within five seconds, the curtain was raised again. Standing in the center of the stage, facing the audience, was one man — Topol. There was an immediate, deafening roar of applause from the audience that lasted for more than two minutes.

As I looked at the elderly man standing in the center of the large, empty stage, I thought, “Oh, my gosh, they’re treating him like he’s a god.”

I turned around and looked at the audience. Everyone was standing, applauding, and cheering. I stood there and scanned the entire audience for at least 15 seconds. The main and mezzanine sections of the theater were full. I had never seen such praise and adulation for one man.

I turned back around and looked at Topol. I could tell from the look on his face and from the way he was standing that he was humbled by the applause and cheering of the audience. After a while, he smiled, raised his right hand into the air, and waved to the audience. At that moment, the curtain came down for the last time.

After the cast finished its performances in Chicago, they traveled to several other major cities to perform. Topol’s last performance as Tevye was in Boston, Massachusetts, on November 15, 2009. There were additional performances scheduled after that date, but he had to drop out of the tour because of a shoulder injury.

On the day I saw Topol perform, the audience gave glory to him.

Did he deserve their glory?

The dictionary defines glory as “praise, honor, or distinction extended by common consent” and “worshipful praise, honor, and thanksgiving.”

Ordinarily we think in terms of giving glory to God, not to other people. It has never occurred to most people that when they praise or honor another person, they’re giving glory to that person.

I was pleased the audience stood up and cheered for Topol. At the age of 73, he was still in his prime. Even though he had spent half his life playing the part of Tevye, he still acted as though every performance was his first. He was a master of his craft, and it was pleasing to see him bask in the glory that the audience showered on him.

At a subconscious level, we all desire glory. It’s human nature.

But none of us really deserves glory, because we would not be able to excel in anything if our Creator had not blessed us with certain gifts, talents, and abilities.

In high school, I had a friend who lived on a farm. He was in the 4-H program, and every year he showed his cows at the county fair. Over the years, he received numerous first-place ribbons for his cows. The ribbons represented praise, honor, and distinction for what he had accomplished. In other words, he received glory for what he did with his cows.

I participated in my first full theater production when I was a junior in high school. After that, I was addicted. During high school, I was also involved in music. I performed with the school concert choir and a small group of singers who were selected by our music teacher to perform at various community events in Peoria. I also performed with a barbershop quartet that I organized.

I always enjoyed the attention, praise, and honor (glory) that I received from the audiences that we performed for.

It’s okay to receive glory from others for our accomplishments. But whenever we receive glory, we should immediately pass that glory on to God for the gifts, talents, and abilities that He gave us.

That’s exactly what the mother of God did when her cousin, Elizabeth, gave her glory. During the time that Mary was pregnant with Jesus, she went to assist her elderly cousin Elizabeth who was pregnant with Saint John the Baptist. As soon as Elizabeth saw Mary, she proclaimed, “Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.”

Mary reactively responded with a statement that we now know as “The Magnificat,” which begins with, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit exalts in God my Savior.” As soon as Mary was praised by her cousin, she immediately and reactively gave glory to God.

That’s how all of us should react whenever we receive glory for something we have done.

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One Response to “A Trip to the Theater”

  1. Sister Roberta Houlihan, CSJ Says:

    BEAUTIFULLY STATED! ONCE AGAIN, THANK YOU !!
    I haven’t attended theatrical presentations – my sister Mary and I did go to the theater to see the Musicals that were popular,
    as we grew up – in our teenage years. I love the way you bring the PRAISE OF GOD to “the center of the stage”!
    God has blessed me in many ways, and has given me a beautiful life; as I look back, I have so much to be grateful for. One area in particular – I thank God for my FRIENDS, such as your family!!
    May you continue to be blessed! My prayers continue for you! With love – Sister Roberta

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