Special Reports

Facial Hair Tips With the Men of Fiddler on the Roof

Find out how Danny Burstein and the cast of this classic musical keep their faces silky smooth.

When an audience member stops Danny Burstein at the Fiddler on the Roof stage door, the question he inevitably gets asked about his long Tevye beard is, "Is it real?" As happens to Edmund Gwenn, who plays Kris Kringle in the 1947 film Miracle on 34th Street, the question is sometimes accompanied by a tug to the facial hair that extends past his chin. But Burstein knows that when you're playing Tevye, it comes with the territory.

The men of Fiddler on the Roof have had to figure out the best ways of keeping their beards clean and smooth throughout their run, which took them from the chilly fall and winter of 2015 through an unbearably hot summer in 2016, and now back again. "You treat it like a dear pet," Michael Bernardi says of the long, curly facial hair he sports as Mordcha, the innkeeper. Below, several cast members share the pros and cons of sporting voluminous facial hair, and the lessons they've learned along the way.

Karl Kenzler — Constable

Karl Kenzler uses a leave-in beard conditioner given to him by fellow cast member Jessica Hecht.
Karl Kenzler uses a leave-in beard conditioner given to him by fellow cast member Jessica Hecht.
(© David Gordon)

How did the production decide on the facial hair looks for each performer?
There's a hair and wig department. They discuss it with Bart and with our designers. There was a lot of photo research from the period. And then they sort of tried to see what everyone could grow, would grow, would be willing to maintain. Adam Grupper and Mitch Greenberg, Adam plays the Rabbi, and Mitch plays Nachum the Beggar, and they're supposed to have really long beards but they were like absolutely not. So they let them be clean-shaven and they have the fakes.

What beard-care products do you use?
Jessica Hecht gave me a really lovely opening-night gift, Dr. Sofskin's leave-in beard conditioner. It's a good conditioner, but I also use it as a shaving cream. It's funny, my wife used to hate facial hair on me, but for some reason for this show, she likes it.

Michael Bernardi — Mordcha

Michael Bernardi points out the supplies he uses to treat his beard.
Michael Bernardi points out the supplies he uses to treat his beard.
(© David Gordon)

Do you use any special products to treat your beard?
I treat it with conditioners and oils. You take a fine-tooth comb and drizzle a little bit of the oil on it. I like to use Alberto VO5, which is pretty greasy stuff. It's calming. A beard is something you have a relationship with because it's constantly changing.

How does having a beard for this production affect your daily life?
I was taking a flight. My great-grandmother passed away. I got on the plane and everything was overbooked. There was no room for my bags. So I sit down, put the bag in front of my legs, and the stewardess comes up and goes, "You can't put your bag there." People are boarding the plane and I don't want to hold anyone up. She's like, you're going to have to put it up." And I'm like, "There's no room, what am I going to do?" She goes, "Well, you'll have to check it." OK, fine.

I guess I was a little short with her. I was stressed out. It was a stressful situation. I said, "Look, I'm sorry, please just check my bag, I'm on my way to a funeral, I just want to sit down and relax. It has nothing to do with you, you're fantastic." And she's like, "Well, we all have problems." I ended up getting kicked off that flight.

I go out into the gate and they're like, "Yeah, this happens all the time. But I could feel everyone in the airport looking at the bearded guy being questioned by the guys with big guns. There's a lot of fear in the world right now. It's crazy, right?

Adam Dannheisser — Lazar Wolf

Adam Danheisser holds up a special beard oil made by his wife.
Adam Dannheisser holds up a special beard oil made by his wife.
(© David Gordon)

What did your beard look like when the production first opened, and how do you describe it now?
By the time we opened, I had a power beard, and I sort of lament the loss of that. I got rid of it for [Lincoln Center Theater's] Oslo, because I was playing a different guy. About two weeks before Oslo ended, I said to [Fiddler and Oslo director] Bart [Sher], "I gotta grow that beard back!" And he's like, "Eh, whatever you want." So I started to grow it back two weeks before Oslo closed and this is as far as I've gotten. Check with me in another month and I'm going to be like Grizzly Adams again. I love facial hair as an actor. There's a little part of me that feels like I'm a little too proper right now.

What do your wife and children think of the beard?
My wife got me this beard oil. She made some sort of concoction at Whole Foods. I put some of that on to keep it smooth. She likes it better than stubble. Once I'm into beard mode, she's OK. My children like the beard. I came downstairs after shaving and they didn't notice. When I told them, their minds were blown. They're seven and eleven. This is how they've known me. My youngest son wasn't even born when I started doing Rock of Ages, so he only knew me with something on my face. I remember seeing my dad shave his goatee when I was maybe ten. I almost wanted to cry because I didn't know who he was. My boys seem to prefer me covered up.

Adam Kantor — Motel

Adam Kantor shows off the beards of his ancestors.
Adam Kantor shows off the beards of his ancestors.
(© David Gordon)

How does the beard help inform your character choices?
I thought that Motel should be a little more modest. Especially in Act Two, I like the idea of him appearing a little more cleaned up. Time has passed, he has established himself more with the shop, he gets the sewing machine. His marriage with Tzeitel, I would think, has informed him and helped him clean up a little bit and be a little less schlubby. In Act One, I'm running on with my tape measure falling out and my hair's a little messier, popping out of my hat. In Act Two, the hair is neat behind the hat.

I do subtle things during intermission. Sometimes I even do a trim, because my beard grows very fast. I do a clean up of the line of the beard and the thickness. Maybe one person in the front row notices, but I like it. It's the details.

Ben Rappaport — Perchik

Ben Rappaport keeps his beard a manageable length as Perchek.
Ben Rappaport keeps his beard a manageable length as Perchek.
(© David Gordon)

Midway through the run of Fiddler, you got rid of the beard completely, and now you're growing it back. How were you able to justify it with a character choice?
I had a project that I was doing and I had to be clean-shaven, so they allowed me to shave my beard off. And then I slowly grew it back. I kept it a more manageable length once I came back in the spring. Bart Sher and I had a conversation that it would make sense that Perchek would not have a beard, since he's rebelling against tradition anyway. He's from the big city where everyone is into the new fashions and trends and things like that.

How do you maintain your beard?
I trim once a week. It's mostly about the products. I have beard conditioner. I ran out, but I need to get more beard shampoo. In Williamsburg, having a beard is like a rite of passage, so there are all sorts of amazing products out there. I sometimes use beard oil if I want to feel all fancy. During previews last winter, my sister bought me a beard comb that's personalized, with my initials engraved in it.

Danny Burstein — Tevye

Danny Burstein uses various hair products to keep his Tevye beard manageable.
Danny Burstein uses various hair products to keep his Tevye beard manageable.
(© David Gordon)

How does having a Tevye beard affect your daily life?
I really don't think about it that much anymore. When I think of myself, I do think of myself without a beard, and sometimes I'm surprised when I look in the mirror. When it gets too long, I wake myself up in the middle of the night. I put my arm over it and I try to turn and I can't move my head because my arm is on my beard.

I've had a recurring dream that I shave off my beard and I think "F**k! I've got a show, what am I gonna do?" I just keep having that dream, so I know deep down I want to shave it. I'm itching to shave it, not literally, but I am.

What do people say about your beard when they see you in person?
"Is it real?" That's the comment I get more than anything else after the show. People reach out and pull on it. They always say, "Oh, it is real!" And I go "Israel!?" Bad joke.

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