Based on his Broadway credits, it would be easy to assume that Nick Rehberger carries some of the same seriousness and solemnity as his on-stage characters. But Rehberger, who made his debut in the 2013 revival of The Glass Menagerie and currently stars in Fiddler on the Roof, is warm, sincere, and always smiling.
Every night in Fiddler, Danny Burstein’s Tevye roars his disapproval at the notion that Fyedka and Chava hope to become married. For Rehberger, who was introduced to Burstein’s talents in South Pacific, he said the moment is both humbling for his character Fyedka and himself as an actor.
Rehberger is seeing his star rise as Fiddler on the Roof remains exceptionally popular with fans and audiences. The production is currently nominated for three Tony Awards in the categories of Best Musical Revival, Best Actor for Danny Burstein, and Best Choreography for Hofesh Shechter.
Rehberger recently sat down with Stage Door Dish to discuss playing serious roles on stage, connecting with his casts backstage, and finding his place with emotionally-charged revivals.
No pressure, let’s start by having you tell me your life story in under one minute.
I grew up in Hazlett, Michigan, which is a little town near Lansing, Michigan, the capital of Michigan. My dad’s a professor at Michigan State University. My mom’s a mom. She’s an awesome mom. I went to public middle school and high school. I started doing theatre because all my friends were doing it in middle school. The year before high school, I saw my high school’s production of Fiddler on the Roof and I was like, ‘Actually, I want to do this. I want to take this seriously.’ I started taking voice lessons. Then I started doing all the shows in high school. I had great parts in a lot of things. I started going to summer camp at the University of Michigan and that’s what led me to decide that I could do musical theatre in college. I went to Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. I had a great experience there. I started to lean more towards straight plays, film, and TV acting while I was at school there. After I graduated, I did The Glass Menagerie for seven months, which was a really awesome experience. I understudied the two guys. Then, I did a couple film and TV things, and now I’m doing Fiddler on the Roof.
You said that it was Fiddler on the Roof that sparked your interest in acting. What was it about the musical that appealed to you in that way?
It was a combination of things. Even in middle school, I was learning that theatre was a place where I fit in. I was in the band. I played sports on and off, but I never really caught on to anything. When I found theatre, I was like, ‘This is something I’m good at. This is where I can make my home in high school.’ It was really inspiring to see the guys especially being up on the stage. This guy, David Tyce, who played Tevye, was so cool, and I wanted to be like him. It showed me that there was a place for me in high school to fit in. I was a band geek and a 4.0 student.
That’s another amazing thing. Another funny connection is that the first Broadway show I ever saw was South Pacific with Danny. It was a similar thing. I saw Danny and Paul Szot onstage, and I saw myself doing that type of thing. At that point, it was so far away. I didn’t imagine Broadway. I just wanted to be an actor. I wanted to go to college for it. That was as far as my sights were set. It is pretty special. Getting to do Glass Menagerie was nice because I knew pretty early on that unless there was a crazy emergency, I wouldn’t go on. I got to learn the ropes and see what it’s like to be around people who are working that hard and are that good at their jobs and what it’s like to be in Broadway theatre and to walk in the door and know everyone’s name and say hi and get to know everyone in the building. Things like that I’ve been able to bring to this show now that I’m part of the primary cast.
Have you ever received advice that you’ve picked up from any of these people that you will keep with you?
A lot of it is just watching and soaking it in and learning from experience. I do remember one time I was talking going to acting school and how you feel all of these expectations to do things, and I was talking to Zach about that. Zach went to my same school. Especially when you have these big alums like Zach Quinto, there’s big pressure. He was like, ‘Wait a minute. I didn’t really start working until ten years out of school.’ He was on Heroes, but he really put in the work slowly. Now he’s Zach Quinto. I think seeing it as a whole career, the job to job isn’t as important as the longevity of what you’re doing and how to maintain that and how to be happy in your career. I got a lot of that from watching Zach and from talking to him.
Is there anyone that you have worked with and would love to work with again? Or is there somebody who you would want to work with?
There are a lot of people. Everyone in that cast of Menagerie was brilliant. I would love to work with Cherry Jones. I really hoped I could go on to do the show with everyone and to do the show with Celia. But to stand opposite Cherry Jones would be pretty special. Since I was 16 when I saw South Pacific, I wanted to work with Danny Burstein. Even that little scene where I get to shake his hand onstage every night is very exciting for me. I have a little meta-moment where I’m Fyedka, I’m in character, but I’m also like, ‘I’m shaking Danny Burstein’s hand onstage!’
Both of your Broadway shows are quite heartbreaking. Is that something that you’re drawn to or is that just what’s happened?
I think it’s a combination of both things. I like comedy but I’m more drawn to drama. That’s shown up a little bit in what I’ve done. If I could do Tennessee Williams and Eugene O’Neill and Arthur Miller for the rest of my life, I would be totally happy.
What about drama makes you tick?
That’s just sort of my inclination. Not that I had a difficult childhood or life or anything but I feel like I naturally understand playing a troubled person or people in dramatic situations a little more accessibly than I do people in comedic situations. Then again, there are a lot of shows that I love that I did in college or that I’d love to do that are big broad comedies. It helps to be able to do a little bit of everything. I do love a good dramatic play or a good dramatic musical. The book of Fiddler is so good. It’s like its own play, which is really cool.
Both shows are not just serious dramas, they’re also about family. Has that influenced the way you view your relationships with your family in comparison to what’s onstage?
I do think about that. You really have to find your way into things like that. I have a great, very supportive family. Finding what’s similar about a play to your family is a really fun thing, but also you find what’s different. You can live those things out onstage and you get to have another little life experience that you don’t have with your own family. It is really cool just seeing people react to the show because it has such a cultural impact. It has such an impact on people’s families. I’ve had a lot of families come up to me after the show and tell me how much it’s meant to them over the course of their lives, how much it’s meant to their families as a whole. That’s been very special.
I want to talk about the family of Fiddler. You helped me put together an article about the philanthropy that has been going on and the camaraderie behind the scenes. Can you talk about that?
I was very lucky with Menagerie that even though I was an understudy – it was different because I was a standby and I wasn’t playing a role – I was really welcomed into that group. Even more so with this. There are 37 people total in the cast. I have my own special relationship with every single person and every single crew member and everyone working on the show. When people ask me if I’m enjoying the show, I always speak to how fun it is to be around this amazing group of people. Everyone works really hard for each other. Everyone’s so creative and they want to work on all of these different projects. Me and the guys upstairs who have a lot of time to sit around, we made a silly video of the ‘Golden Goys.’ People want to do stuff like that all the time. I like to go to the theatre way before half hour just to hang out and eat and see people and talk. Jessica Hecht asked me to do this little reading of a musical that first graders wrote at Midtown West Elementary School. We read it. They wrote the lines and they were all Comden and Green songs. We sang the songs and read the script for these first graders and they screamed out every song. They were so excited to have us there. That was so fulfilling. People are finding little things like that to do with the show. People do workshops surrounding Fiddler and then people who did the workshop come see the show that night. People are really giving back. My dressing roommate, Jeffrey Schecter, has his own company called ‘I Can Do That’ because he was in A Chorus Line and that’s the song his character sang. He teaches musical theatre classes to anywhere from three year olds to ten year olds and probably older, too. That’s his business and he works so hard at it. Everybody has something like that where they give back to the theatre community.
Fiddler‘s been around for 50 years. Did you think the response to this revival would be so loving and so strong?
Isn’t that crazy? I knew it would have some sort of impact because people know it. People at the end of the show always talk about seeing the original production with Zero Mostel or seeing the last production. There have been five revivals. Part of me wondered if the fifth revival was going to have an impact on this generation. What it proves is that every generation needs a Fiddler on the Roof. It speaks so beautifully, almost unfortunately, to what’s going on in Syria, what’s going on in the way that we talk about religion and people we don’t understand. It resonates so strongly with the world that we live in today. I was surprised by that. I knew it was a good musical. I knew all of the songs going in. There was a day in our final dress rehearsal. We were all sitting around and we were like, ‘No matter what we’re doing, despite all of our work, this is just a very good show.’ It’s just a good piece. It’s important to tell the story of it.
I want to talk about the adorable Melanie Moore. What moment did you realize your partnership works?
Right away. She has so much energy and she likes everyone. We connected right away because we were so willing to tease each other and be in that fun place from the beginning. We were always talking in the corner. She’s the most incredible dancer in the world and I’m not the best dancer. We found that out quickly because I did a week of pre-production of dance with Hofesh [Shechter] which was great. I got to really learn what the style of the show was even though I don’t end up dancing very much in it. We ended up discovering a lot of things in that. Melanie was there for a couple days of it, and we bonded during that time. We got to come into the first day of rehearsal already kind of knowing each other and getting along and being pals.
Do you guys have a moment before or after the show to prepare yourselves for the horrible, sad scene that makes everybody cry?
We always check in before the show at some point, even if it’s just walking past her dressing room to get to my room. There is that entrance before that last big scene where we’re in a hallway about to go onstage and we usually just have a moment where I put my hand on her back, and she looks at me, and we take a breath, and we go onstage. It’s nice to have those little moments of connection in the show because it’s an odd thing with all the couples. We’re onstage for portions and then Ben [Rappaport] and Sam [Massell] go off to Siberia or I go away for 40 minutes and come back with Mel at the end. Al [Silber] and Adam [Kantor] go away while we’re telling the other stories. It’s an odd thing to be so invested in a scene and then go play guitar upstairs or do something totally unrelated and then come back and have to do this painful scene.
I want to go back and mention the video that you guys made of The Golden Girls. I want to talk about that.
That was all Karl Kenzler. He single-handedly made that video. Don’t give me any credit for that. I was just along for the ride.
The other thing that I need you to explain to me is your Twitter profile. Specifically, ‘I put furniture together.’ Let’s talk about that.
My dad is very handy. I like to pretend that I’m from Michigan and I’m some really cool lumberjack guy but I grew up in a suburb in Michigan. I helped my dad out with a lot of projects. In New York, I’m comparatively handy. I’m always the person people call to put their Ikea furniture together or help them put a shelf on the wall. I’ve started to try to take up more carpentry related projects. I’ve got a little woodworking table and I make little boxes and things. I’m at the very early stages of that. I’m not a master woodworker.
I want to talk about your friendships with two of my other favorite people: Adam Kantor and Ben Rappaport. You guys have such a great rapport with each other. What is a funny story that comes to mind when you think of these guys?
We’re all so different, but they’re both the nicest guys in their own way. I often think that I need to take a page from Ben’s book. He is so calm and so collected all the time, and he does all this stuff. He does TV and film and he’s running away all the time to do things. He’s so multi-talented, but I’m never seen him crack. He’s smiling and nice all the time. It’s the same with Adam. For a while, he was going off and doing The Last 5 Years. On a Monday, he’d go do The Last 5 Years somewhere and then he was making a vlog. It just seems so easy and fun for him. The rapport is there. We had a little get together dinner before we started rehearsals, so the six of us could get to know each other. Ben’s fiancée, Meg, made an incredible roast. We all just talked for hours and hours into the middle of the night, and ate good food. The six of us always have that special relationship between us.
Between Motel, Perchik, and Fyedka, which one do you personally identify with the most?
I’m probably a combination. Honestly, I probably relate to Motel the most. I tend to have that manic energy and desire to please. In the end, he comes through and he’s very strong. I think there’s a beautiful arc to Motel that I, hopefully, relate to.
If you could take on any other role in Fiddler, for a show, which one would you want to take on?
I would like to play Lazar Wolf. Not only because Adam Dannheisser is one of the most brilliant actors I’ve ever met and the secret weapon of our show. You wouldn’t necessarily think that Lazar Wolf is going to stand out but everyone I know who has seen the show goes, ‘Oh my god. That guy who plays Lazar Wolf makes it into an amazing part.’ I want to try to fill his shoes. I also love playing characters, so I think it would fun to put on that beard and hair and go for it. To do more stuff opposite Danny would be okay too.
What is something that people would be surprised to learn about you?
I played the French horn for seven years. I don’t think I could play a note now which is sad. I learned how to play with braces but then I got them out. Then I had to learn how to play without them. By that time, I was doing all sorts of musicals and plays, so I gave it up.
So you learned as a kid to play the French horn?
Yeah, in middle school and a little bit of high school. I was in marching band for a little bit. I played the mellophone, which I did not enjoy playing.
What are the benefits of being in two shows that are so recognizable?
Because it’s so well known, there are expectations involved. What’s been great about working with Bart [Sher] is that he’s respectful of what the piece is and wants to maintain the tradition. He wants to be true to the text and the piece itself but he’s not afraid to make interesting choice that relate to modern day. I feel this weight sometimes of the expectation of what people go in hoping to see, but I was banished of that fear by Bart who brought us into this this beautiful new interpretation of the show that we really go to create ourselves – honoring the piece, but creating it ourselves. It’s almost like we discovered it as a new play. There is a combination of being a part of something that you know is special. It’s tried and true. It worked. Fiddler is a great show. People think that, and they always will. To be able to interpret it in a new way and using all of our own flavors that we bring to it, that’s what I love about being in a good revival. You’re working with something that you know is solid, and there’s a fearlessness that comes from working on something that you already know is good. You can keep trying to take it to the next level.
Do you have a dream role?
I want to be Chris in All My Sons. It’s one of the most perfect plays. It’s such a good play. That type of language, that style, that era, I feel like I fit into really well. I think we’re due for a revival of that.
If you were not an actor, and could not be a musician, what would you do?
I think about that a lot. I think I want to take some classes and do other things as well. A lot of actors say this, which makes sense because that’s what we do as actors, but I would probably want to be a psychologist. Being an actor, you’re studying how the mind works and how people operate, so having to think about that all the time, I’m so fascinated by how people’s minds work, how the brain functions, how people go through their daily lives. I would love to do that. Or, I’m fascinated by religion. I would go to school for some sort of religious studies or comparative religion degree. I’m fascinated with how, through time, people gravitate towards organized religion and how that works in the world. This has been really fun to learn about an entirely new culture. Obviously, I know things about Judaism but to be immersed in this world where most of the cast is Jewish. We had a Rabbi come in and talk to us about customs. We had all of these religious scholars come in and talk to us about the history of the religion. It’s fascinating.
What’s your secret talent?
Everything’s related to acting. I do a lot of impressions.
Do you have one impression that you’re really good at?
In high school, I used to do an amazing Christopher Walken impression. Everyone would always ask me to do it. Now it’s not even there. I don’t know what to do about it. I do a Mandy Patinkin impression. When I was growing up, I tried every sport and got hit in the face with a ball so many times that I gave up every sport. I played soccer, and I really wanted to be goalie. Obviously, I kept getting hit in the face with a ball. I told my mom that I didn’t want to play soccer anymore. So then, I played basketball. Somehow, I managed to get hit in the face, but in basketball you don’t usually get hit in the face. Another sport I ended up being kind of good at was golf. I’m a secret golfer. I sometimes go to Chelsea Piers with my friend and hit up the range.