SWOYERSVILLE — He played Ben Franklin in “1776,” Van Helsing in “Dracula,” Horace Vandergelder in “Hello, Dolly,” Don Quixote in “Man of La Mancha” and — so many times — Tevye the dairy man in “Fiddler on the Roof.”
“Always larger than life, on stage and off,” said Bernadine Vojtko, of Wyoming, remembering her long-time theater friend and colleague, T. Doyle Leverett, who died Monday evening after struggling with health problems for some time.
Leverett, 63, of Swoyersville, was affectionately known as “T” in theater circles. He was a founding member in 1981 of the Music Box Dinner Playhouse along with his sister, Kelly Bishop, brother-in-law, Dr. Robert W. Bishop, and friends Kevin Costley and Michael Gallagher.
At least a dozen of his friends gathered Tuesday evening at the playhouse to comfort each other and celebrate Leverett’s talented life.
“He was Broadway caliber,” said Larry Vojtko, who appeared in many shows with Leverett. “What a great voice he had, too.”
In addition to acting in local community theaters and in New York City, Doyle directed an estimated 25 plays at the Music Box Playhouse, including the recent “Sister Act” and “La Cage Aux Folles.”
“He gave me my first big break — Nicky in ‘Avenue Q,’ ” Karl Kleist, of Hanover Township, recalled.
“He gave me my first really fun part — Lily St. Regis (an imposter posing as Annie’s mother) in ‘Annie,’ ” Bernadine Vojtko said.
Leverett had a knack of recognizing abilities in other people, said Sue Drake, of Hanover Township, explaining she was a singer who never acted until Leverett recruited her for a show. And she never sewed costumes until he suggested she’d be good at that, too.
Earlier this year, Alice Y. Lyons cast Leverett as Tevye in a Misfit Players production of “Fiddler on the Roof” she directed at GAR High School in Wilkes-Barre. At the time, Levrette estimated it was his 27th appearance in “Fiddler.”
“I’ve had every role from Tevye to ‘third Jew from the left,’” he told a reporter during a rehearsal.
“And I wanted to be ‘fourth Jew from the left,’” he joked. “It’s a cruel business.”
The first time he portrayed Tevye, Leverett said, he was 19 or 20 years old and had the lead role in a production at Illinois State University, where he was studying theater.
“My Tevye at that time was a lot more slapstick,” he recalled, adding that as years went by he learned to “understand love more” and the role consequently “broadened and deepened.”
Lyons admired Leverett’s skills and work ethic when he was the director and she was acting in “Avenue Q” at Music Box. When their roles were reversed, she realized he was a joy to direct, too.
“He’s easy to work with, talented in so many ways and has great stage presence,” she said earlier this year. “He takes suggestions, makes suggestions, doesn’t complain and works as hard as he can.”
In an email she sent to the Times Leader on Tuesday, Lyons described the role of Tevye as Leverett’s favorite. “Knowing how happy that made him and the innocent gift I gave him of being on stage one last time will be a memory I will always hold very close to my heart.”