It was a role made famous by Topol but Joe McCann is playing Tevye his way, as he tells Alison Jones.
Joe McGann would be the first to admit that anti-semitism and the bloody pogroms that saw thousands killed in Russia at the beginning of last century are not normally sources of humour.
The fact that director Norman Jewison emphasised the brutal realities of life in the shtetls in the film version Fiddler on the Roof, convinced him this was a musical with little in the way of levity.
So when he was asked to star as Tevye in a new stage version, he was surprised to find himself smiling along to the script.
" I had never been a big fan (of Fiddler) I always thought it was a little bit humourless," he admits.
"But I read the play I really loved it. Tevye is a story teller. He's a man surrounded by women, he has got five daughters and his wife, so he can struggle for authority. He has to roar a bit, but empty vessels make the most sound.
"He loves his children and while hanging onto tradition in terms of his religion, he very quickly adapts to change. I suppose he has got the optimism that people have who have a simple faith and not very much else.
"I am kind of playing with that optimism, the way he maintains his humour in the face of terrible things which is a very Jewish trait and is one I know from my Irish background. They have that similar gallows humour, the ability to laugh at any time."
Joe is the oldest of the four acting McGann brothers (the others are Paul, Mark and Stephen) who are often hailed as the fabbest four to come out of Liverpool since Macca and his mates. But it was their Irish ancestry that inspired the quartet to appear together in the TV drama The Hanging Gale, which was set in Ireland during the potato famine of the mid-19th century.
The role of Tevye, the dairyman who treats God as something of a confidant, in Fiddler is one of the longest - in terms of stage time - in musicals.
It is indelibly linked with the actor Chaim Topol, who played the part on stage and screen. But Joe says comparisons are, if not odious, at least lazy.
"People actually ask me 'are you paying Topol?' not Tevye.
"You have got a job on your hands because there is a small percentage of an audience who go along saying 'He's not Topol'. Well, duh!
"I am not in the market to do imitations. I try to do it my way.
"I think we have brought more of the humour out. Bear in mind it was originally written for Danny Kaye, that was their target and that gave me a clue. It defined some of the lighter elements, not that there aren't some very emotional scenes.
"This is very different to most musicals in that it has a serious backdrop. These things really did happen in 1906. There were pogroms and the Jews were were blamed for everything. It is very difficult for people to grasp now the casually admitted, Europe-wide anti-semitism that used to exist.
"The people who wrote the musical (the book is by Joseph Stein, music and lyrics by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick) were direct descendents of the people who would have emigrated to America, so it is part of their history, their folklore and they treat it very sensitively."
The show has a little personal history for Joe as his father-in-law, Geoff Locise, was in the original London production. Joe acknowledges that his starring in it "was like a blessing, almost like giving him a grandchild".
Joe himself is feeling pretty blessed at the moment. The success with Fiddler follows a critically lauded performance as Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls.
Though he describes himself as "an actor who can sing rather than a musical theatre actor. I can hold a tune. I don't claim to be Michael Ball", he has found himself drawn to the stage because it is where the money and best parts are.
"Television wages have been going down as well as the quality of work that available in television," he says.
In fact he is so disenchanted with it he has actually given his TV set away.
"For the most parts theatre jobs are often well paid," he continues. "I got married about a year and a half ago and bought a new house, so having a mortgage to pay I am going with the contracts that are the longest and pay the most."
He and Tamzin got married in Scotland while he was on tour with Guys, though they hadn't quite had the 14 year run up to the event that Nathan and Miss Adelaide famously enjoy.
"We'd been together almost seven years with a couple of little breaks here and there, and we just decided it was time. Tamzin was keen to get married at that particular juncture because it was a blood moon and she is into that kind of thing.
"She used to be a producer but now she does alternative therapies.
"We had a couple of the cast there, my mum and Tam's mum and dad, my sister and my daughter (twice divorced Joe has a daughter, Charlotte, from a previous relationship). It was just a small wedding, it was delightful."
Joe says that Tamzin, who is 15 years his junior, helps to keep him young. He turns 50 in July but is retaining his equanimity about reaching such a milestone.
"I am in as good a shape as I have been for about 15 years so it doesn't bother me, Like anybody I feel about 19 inside, maybe slightly older than that, but you kind of stall at certain age.
"As long as I am fit and active and keep myself going I have no problem with it, though I don't feel as old as I am. My mum is fond of saying 70 is the new 50, so maybe 50 is the new 30."
He has entered a period of professionally and personal stability after several rocky years which has saw him swapping jobs and even countries in pursuit of contentment.
Back in the early 90s, Joe was a household name thanks to the role-reversal comedy The Upper Hand.
However, when ITV's experimental soap Night and Day, in which he played builder Alex Wells, ended nearly six years ago he quit Britain for Spain.
"It didn't work out for me," he admits. "I didn't like the kind of ex-pat lifestyle. I gave it a go and I didn't like it.
"I moved back and I was living in the middle of a forest in Wiltshire for a couple of years. I decided to change a few things about my life and Spain wasn't the place to do that."
Then in 2005 he declared himself bankrupt. "I was being chased for tax which I couldn't find out why I owed and nor could my accountant. In the end I just went 'well I haven't got the money to pay you so I am going to go bankrupt' which I did."
He did some presenting work for a while, reporting for the BBC's South Today programme before recommitting himself to acting.
A heavy drinker in the past, Joe has also cut back dramatically on the time he spends in the bar after a show is over.
"I have had periods in my life where didn't drink and then went back to it for a while. It is just something I do. I find my life is much easier without drinking. In this job you can end up winding down in bars until two in the morning and being hungover the next day. I'd rather have my mornings clear.
"I don't mind having one or two if there is a celebration - I will be working in Woking when it is my 50th so I will probably celebrate it with the cast. You have to mark the big ones - but then I'll go home to my digs and get an early night."
* Fiddler On The Roof is on at the Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, from tomorrow until Saturday and at the Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, from September 23 to 27.