Oct. 05--Among musicals, "Fiddler on the Roof" stands as a true warhorse. Following its 1964 Broadway debut, it was the first musical to pass 3,000 performances. It won nine Tony Awards, spawned four major revivals and a hit 1971 film adaptation. Over the decades, a long, diverse line of stars have appeared in it, including Bette Midler, Leonard Nimoy, Bea Arthur, Harvey Fierstein, Rosie O'Donnell and even "Glee" star Lea Michele.
"Fiddler" has become so ubiquitous, seasoned theatergoers not only know the show the from top to bottom, they've likely encountered a lousy production or two of it over the years. Thankfully, Chanhassen Dinner Theatres' latest take on the musical is not only serviceable, it's terrific and filled with kinetic performances and an infectious spirit.
Much like he did with Chanhassen's just-wrapped production of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," director Michael Brindisi doesn't bring much innovation to the show, but simply focuses on its strengths and coaxes top-notch work from both the cast and his behind-the-scenes collaborators.
Set in Tsarist Russia in 1905, the familiar story follows the poor milkman Tevye and his struggles to maintain lifelong familial and religious traditions while coping with strong-willed daughters eager to forge their own histories as well as an ever-changing society that no longer welcomes Tevye and his people. One of the show's primary themes -- the notion that love should be the foundation of a marriage -- remains utterly contemporary in an era where gay marriage is swiftly becoming commonplace.
At first, Chanhassen vet Keith Rice's boisterous portrayal of Teyve feels a bit too hammy for a kosher production, but the rest of the cast rises to Rice's level with high-wattage singing and eye-popping dancing. Even if some of the actors in minor parts never quite commit to an accent, it's obvious they're focused on showcasing the skills they do possess. There's a true "we're in this together" vibe to the production that even carries through to the rapid scene changes. A show that approaches three hours in running time asks a lot of a dinner theater crowd -- "Fiddler" is on stage nearly twice as long as "Joseph" was -- but the cast does everything it can to maintain a brisk, breezy pace.
Strong actors follow Rice's lead in most of the roles, with standouts Nancy Marvy hitting all the right comic notes as the gossipy matchmaker Yente and Michelle Barber bringing the perfect amount of weariness to Teyve's wife Golde. When Barber delivers a heartfelt, yet exasperated, "Do You Love Me?" at the top of the second act, you'll believe every word she sings.
Brindisi and his collaborators fill every corner of the stage with action and life, from the birch trees that provide the stage's skeleton (via set designer Nayna Ramey) to the outfits that pull nearly every possible shade out of a muted palette of earth tones (thanks to costume designer Rich Hamson). Assuming the cast and crew can maintain such a high level of quality eight times a week, "Fiddler on the Roof" is sure to be a highlight of the fall's theater season.
Pop music critic Ross Raihala can be reached at 651-228-5553. Follow him at Twitter.com/RossRaihala.
What: "Fiddler on the Roof"
When: Through Feb. 22
Where: Chanhassen Dinner Theatres, 501 W. 78th St., Chanhassen
Information: 952-934-1525 or ChanhassenDT.com
Capsule: An enjoyable, energetic take on a Broadway tradition
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