For a Jewish theater company staging its first show in a new venue, “Fiddler on the Roof” would seem an obligatory choice.
After all, that musical still reigns as the big papa of the Jewish theatrical canon. And its central theme, making the best of change, makes for one mighty metaphor.
Thankfully, there’s nothing perfunctory about the “Fiddler” being produced by Arizona Jewish Theatre Company – the professional company uprooted from its central Phoenix playhouse and now, opening its 20th season, having settled into the 300-seat performing arts center at Paradise Valley Community College.
On an elaborate and intricate set (on loan from the Wichita Music Theatre) suggesting a quaint Disney village rendered in pastels, this “Fiddler” offers something emotionally rewarding, exceedingly amusing and entirely fresh.
Much of that has to do with the star, pro New York import Chaz Mena. He plays Tevye, a poor milkman in Tsarist Russia whose daughters’ marriages progressively defy religious tradition. It’s a performance, directed by “Fiddler” vet Claude File, that makes all the usual nods to Broadway’s
Zero Mostel – but with the addition of a wry wit, a boyish twinkle in his eye, and a hint of F. Murray Abraham in his delivery, adding up to something wholly charming and great.
It helps that Mena’s backed by some of the Valley’s brightest acting talents, including Cathy Dresbach as Yente, the comic local matchmaker, and Maria Amorocho as Tevye’s wife, Golde. Some surprisingly wonderful performances come from locals Michael Stewart, Carly Vernon and Amanda
Kuchinski, as well, as three of the six young wooers eschewing custom.
The new venue affords certain luxuries unavailable to Arizona Jewish Theatre Company in its former, smaller space, including an orchestra pit – Daniel Kurek’s 12-piece group delivers solid accompaniment to the show’s beloved tunes (“If I Were a Rich Man,” “Sunrise, Sunset,” “Miracle of Miracles”) – and walkways stretching from the proscenium out alongside the audience, which director File takes advantage of, spilling his large cast out to surround us in Sabbath ceremony.
If there’s any fault in this “Fiddler,” it’s the nagging sight of a few awful, rather phony-looking beards scattered among the natural ones. (They don’t grow ’em like they used to, perhaps.)
There are those of us who’ve seen more “Fiddlers on the Roof” than a flood at the Grand Ole Opry – yet here’s a production of the musical proving there are always new delights to be found within.
Talk about miracle of miracles.
Arizona Jewish Theatre Company’s ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ runs 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sundays, closing Oct. 21, at the Paradise Valley Community College Center for the Performing Arts, 18401 N. 32nd St., Phoenix. $40-$60, discounts for children and seniors, $15 student rush. (602) 264-0402 or www.azjewishtheatre.org.