At 72, Harlan Tuckman has played far more roles than most of his Monroe Township neighbors. Like many, he’s been a husband, father, business owner, salesman, and soccer coach.
Like very few, he’s also been Fagin, Tevye, Nat (in I‘m Not Rappaport), the father in A Shayna Maidel, and scores of other characters.
“One of my costars once commented that he never met an old Jew that I hadn’t played,” Tuckman told NJJN via e-mail.
In his long career as an actor, Tuckman has appeared in professional productions as well as in community theater. He was a mainstay for the Marlboro Players company during the 27 years he lived in Marlboro, before moving to Monroe more than 12 years ago.
On Monday evening, Aug. 18, he will bring his latest effort, The Conductor: Only in Terezin/Raphael’s Requiem, to Congregation Beit Shalom in Monroe. The program is being presented by the Alisa chapter of Hadassah.
The one-act play, which Tuckman cowrote with Gabor Barabas, is based on the true story of Jewish-Czechoslovak composer, pianist, and conductor Rafael Schachter, an organizer of cultural life in Terezin, the “model” concentration camp near Prague. It depicts his preparation of doomed choir members to perform Verdi’s Requiem for an audience of Nazi officials.
Schachter, who died on a death march during the evacuation of Auschwitz in 1945, chose the Verdi piece — a Catholic mass in Latin — because it talks about the coming of a day of wrath, when the Supreme Justice will sit in judgment and no one would escape punishment for sins. It is now often referred to as the “Defiant Requiem.”
Tuckman’s acting career met with early success. In the mid-1960s, he landed a recurring role on the NBC network drama Mr. Novak, which starred Burgess Meredith and James Franciscus.
Acting wasn’t his first ambition, however. Tuckman told NJJN, “I wanted to be a screenwriter like my uncle Mel Goldberg who wrote for Playhouse 90, Studio One, The Big Valley, the original Hawaii Five-O, and movies like Hang ’Em High with Clint Eastwood.”
After a year at Allegheny College, where he “fell in love with acting,” Tuckman studied for two years at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York City.
Just weeks after completing the course, Tuckman was cast in a play starring Myrna Loy. “There Must Be a Pony never reached Broadway,” he said, “but it was a memorable experience nevertheless. We toured for eight weeks, and during that time I married my high school sweetheart, Ann.”
Shortly after, the couple moved to Los Angeles, where Tuckman was tabbed for Mr. Novak.
“Unfortunately, my break came late in the final season, and when the show was canceled I was out of work,” he recalled. “Our daughter Jeryl was just born, and being far from home and extended family in the East, we decided to go back to New York. I guess you could say that was the end of Harlan’s Acting Career, Part One.”
Part Two began when he was living in Somerset and auditioned for a part in Oliver. He got the lead, playing Fagin. The following year, he played Tevye.
When the family moved to Marlboro, Tuckman became an integral part of that town’s theater troupe, eventually serving as president.
In the late 1990s, he connected with Barabas, and his wife, SuzAnne, executive producer and artistic director, respectively, of the NJ Repertory Company in Long Branch and authors of its production of Find Me a Voice, a Holocaust drama in which Tuckman played multiple parts.
More recently, he has performed in Friends, a two-character play in which he costars with Judy Spiegel, another ex-Marlboro resident now living in Monroe Township.
Since acting rarely paid the bills, the Tuckmans found other sources of income. “We owned a Lee Myles Transmission franchise in Eatontown from 1984 until 2011. The past two years I have been working part-time for Advantage Sales and Marketing as a project rep for Walgreens, ShopRite, and Wal-Mart.
“I can’t stay idle,” Tuckman said, “and the job still leaves me the flexibility and time to work on my theatrical projects.”