Kerry Lengel
The Arizona Republic
Oct. 12, 2007 03:15 PM

Arizona Jewish Theatre has been one of the few troupes in the Valley to consistently challenge its audience with new work. But to kick off its 20th season, the company takes a four-decade detour to revive Fiddler on the Roof.

It’s a fitting choice, and not just to celebrate two decades of artistic growth. With this production, the theater also launches a partnership with Paradise Valley Community College. The school’s Center for the Performing Arts is almost new (it’s 2) and offers posher digs and better technical capabilities. So it makes sense to show off the new venue with a big, beautiful spectacle.

That’s Fiddler, for sure. Originally produced in 1964, it held the record as Broadway’s longest-running musical for nearly a decade, until Grease came along. And it’s still a favorite for its rich score, which includes the lovely Sunrise, Sunset.

The Phoenix company rises to the challenge with a gorgeous set that includes foldout houses to keep the scenery constantly changing. The huge cast includes several Valley favorites, including Maria Amorocho, Ben Tyler, Patti Davis Suarez and Cathy Dresbach (as the meddling matchmaker, natch).

The talents of several up-and-comers, such as the sweet-voiced Amanda Kuchinski as one of three daughters who cast their eyes on romance not approved by the matchmaker, also are on display. (Kuchinski was last seen in a very different spectacle, Nearly Naked Theatre’s Bat Boy: The Musical; expect to hear more from her.)

The best thing about this Fiddler, however, is Tevye, the hardworking mensch who struggles to uphold tradition in the face of a changing world. Good-humored in his suffering and openhearted in his devotion, this character really is the show, and actor Chaz Mena captures him perfectly.