“Fiddler has always been my favorite musical of all time,” Ben Rappaport explains from his dressing room at the Broadway Theatre. Although he hadn’t done much musical theatre professionally, he promised himself that one day he’d play Perchik.
“It came up that Bart [Sher] was directing Danny [Burstein] in [Fiddler] in an announcement,” he continues. “I opened it up on Playbill.com, and I looked at my girlfriend, now fiancée [Megan Kane, and said], ‘It’s coming back to Broadway, and I want to play Perchik in this Broadway revival.’ She looked at me kind of like, ‘Whatever, sure, fine’ … And I meant it.”
Before then, Rappaport had mostly done television and straight theatre, starring on the NBC sitcom Outsourced, appearing on CBS’ Elementary and making his Broadway debut in the revival of William Inge’s Picnic. So, the first thing he did after reading news of the Fiddler revival was enroll himself in voice lessons with Andrew Byrne.
“I literally just drilled the hell out of ‘Now I Have Everything,’ and I spent an hour or 45 minutes a day doing vocal exercises and warm-ups and working through the song,” he says. “It was just this weird obsession that I had. I was hell-bent on it, and I’d only been that way about a few things in my life, but there was something about this—I just had to do it. You will it into existence.”
In the midst of early preparation (before audition dates had even been set), Rappaport learned that he had more than just admiration for the part—it was actually in his blood. As he started to learn more about his family background, Rappaport discovered that he’s descended from Eastern European Jews.
“This is my great-great-grandfather’s book,” he says, handing over a copy of The God of Ben Zion by Louis Sugarman. “He wrote a novel about his experiences in his shtetl [a small town with a large Jewish population in Central and Eastern Europe before the Holocaust]. It was written completely in Yiddish, and only last year my family got it translated from Yiddish to English, so I’ve been slowly reading through it. Just the world he creates in this and his experiences are so parallel to what’s going on in Fiddler. There’s something in the DNA and the blood that’s screaming to me, ‘You must be a part of this to connect to your roots.’”
The stakes were especially high for his first audition, in which he did scene work with Bartlett Sher. With so much pressure Rappaport had put on himself, he began to psych himself out before going in the room. “To do really well at an audition, you have to not care about it,” he admits. “There’s that balance of caring enough, but also not giving a s***. But this, I cared so much. I mean, I literally devoted an entire year preparing for this.”
Sher liked his work, but returning to sing for music director Ted Sperling was an obstacle in and of itself. “It went pretty well,” Rappaport recalls, “but there were still some vocal issues there. I think I was very tentative about the longer, sustained notes in the song, and Ted Sperling was like, ‘You have a very pretty sound, but it’s about these sustained notes—I feel like you get nervous with that.’”
Luckily, Sheldon Harnick—the only living member of the Fiddler on the Roof writing team—was on his side. At a final callback, Sperling turned to Harnick (who was in the room this time around) and asked his thoughts. “He turns to Sheldon Harnick and goes, ‘What do you think, Sheldon?’ And Sheldon goes, ‘About what?’ He says, ‘Well, the long notes,’ and he goes, ‘Well, just make them shorter!’”
Kane, his then-girlfriend, was by his side through the whole audition process, and—yet again—Rappaport was willing special events into existence. “If I book Fiddler,” he told a friend, “I’m going to propose to Megan onstage.” (The two grew up in the same city—Houston, TX—although they didn’t get together until after graduating high school and crossing paths on a return trip home).
Rappaport, headstrong and uncompromising on his Fiddler journey from the start, kept to his promise. Like Perchik, “I asked her dad for his blessing—not his permission, as my character points out.”
Shortly after opening Fiddler on the Roof, Rappaport planned a date for both his and Kane’s families to attend, and after the January 3 matinee, he popped the question.
“Unfortunately, we’re not allowed to do proposals at curtain call anymore,” he explains. “So, Bess [Marie Glorioso], our stage manager, was really helpful.” After the show, Glorioso brought Kane and both families backstage as the cast, crew and creative team waited in the wings.
“I had the ring in my back pocket—burning a hole through it—and we’re all greeting [each other], and Bess goes, ‘Ben, I need you to come out center stage with me for a second; I need to show you something.’ I say sure…and she goes, ‘Okay, it’s all yours!’ … I brought Megan out to center stage. She had no idea what was happening. She thought she was getting in trouble. She thought that Bess was upset that we had too many people backstage. … Then, I started talking, and my breath started getting shorter, and she knew immediately what was happening.”
What was more nerve-wracking for Rapapport in his Fiddler journey—getting the role or getting engaged?
“It’s got to be the proposal!” he says, laughing. “I told everyone the day before, so the whole show everybody was giving me nudges of encouragement, and the funniest part was that I spend most of Act Two in my dressing room because [my character goes] off to Siberia, so I was like setting up my dressing room. I had a bottle of champagne, I had X amount of champagne glasses set up for when the families came up, so I was like setting it all up and that was just a weird moment of: ‘My life is about to change after curtain call.’ It was really surreal, and I’m so glad I did it that way because it’s something I’ll remember forever.”
What will he will into existence next? “I’d really like to continue the path of television, film [and] plays,” he says. He’s on his way there with appearances on USA’s Mr. Robot and the indie film Stereotypically You, starring Aaron Tveit. “But, I think what’s great about Fiddler is that it’s taught me that I can do musicals, and if you work hard enough you can make things happen.”