Theodore Bikel sang from the time he was a child. He sang with his parents at home and in the Vienna woods. Later, as a young man on a kibbutz, he found an abandoned guitar, taught himself to play and has not stopped playing and singing since. His theatre life began at age 19 as a student actor in the Habima Theatre in Israel. Soon after, in 1944, he co-founded the Cameri Theatre in which he worked for several years before entering the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London from which he graduated with honors. He then appeared in West End plays including A Streetcar Named Desire, starring Vivien Leigh under the direction of Sir Laurence Olivier and The Love of Four Colonels by and with Peter Ustinov.
Soon after, he was invited to Broadway and has since appeared in many memorable stage performaces – creating the role of Baron von Trapp on Broadway in The Sound of Music opposite Mary Martin and in the past 37 years playing the role of Tevye over 2100 times in Fiddler On The Roof.
Bikel’s first movie was African Queen with Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn and since has made more than 35 films including My Fair Lady, The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! and an Oscar nominated performance in The Defiant Ones with Sidney Potier and Tony Curtis. TV appearances include Star Trek: The Next Generation, Babylon 5, Jag, All in the Family, Law and Order, Columbo, Murder She Wrote and an Emmy award winning performance for his portrayal of Harris Newmark. He has recorded 27 albums, all but six on the Elektra label.
Theodore Bikel’s latest project is Sholom Aleichem: Laughter Through Tears, a one-man tribute to the 19th century writer, humorist and sage, Sholom Aleichem. Written, acted and sung by Theo, directed by Derek Goldman, it premiered in December, 2008 in Washington, D.C. at Theater J and had a subsequent runs at the Parker Playhouse in Florida, Toronto, New York City and San Francisco. For his performance in this play, Theodore Bikel was nominated for a Drama Desk Award in 2010.
Theodore Bikel has been active for many years in Actors Equity Association, serving as First Vice President and President. He was Vice President of the International Federation of Actors and is currently President of the Associated Actors and Artistes of America (4A’s), President Emeritus of Actors’ Equity, a Board Member of the National Foundation for Jewish Culture, has served on the Board of Amnesty International and was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to serve on the National Council for the Arts.
Throughout his career, Theodore Bikel has felt a particular responsibility to Jewish life and to the Jewish community. His numerous albums of Hebrew and Yiddish folk music, his concerts and theater performances, his leadership in the Soviet Jewry movement and in the American Jewish Congress, have all distinguished him as a Jewish activist. His profound impact on Jewish culture is also evidenced by his leading role within the National Foundation for Jewish Culture. He is passionate about the survival of the Yiddish language and devotes much energy to insure its continued existence.