Boulder’s Dinner Theatre recently changed its name to BDT Stage. With the company now in its 37th season, it’s tempting to poke a little mid-life crisis fun at it over the unexpected new moniker. What’s next, a hair transplant? A gold hoop earring? A cherry-red Corvette and a 23-year-old girlfriend?
Luckily for Front Range theatregoers, BDT Stage remains the same beloved organization it has been for decades. Michael J. Duran still heads things up as the producing artistic director. The cast is still made up of a core of diehard, veteran thespians who’ve been with the company for years, intermingled with new faces just beginning their acting careers. The food is still the best you’ll find in a dinner theatre setting.
And with its choice to bring Fiddler on the Roof back to Boulder, BDT Stage clearly demonstrates its continued commitment to presenting Great White Way classics. Celebrating the 50th anniversary of its original opening, Fiddler on the Roof is Broadway royalty. For many, this Tony Award-winning musical (Best Musical, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and five more) is the very definition of big-budget Broadway, and thus it’s no surprise that Fiddler is one of the top 20 longest-running musicals in Broadway history.
Though many people forget this, the star of Fiddler on the Roof is not actually the titular fiddler. It’s Tevye (Wayne Kennedy), a humble dairy farmer who peddles his milk and cheese around town from a rickety wooden cart. The time is 1905. The place is the small, fictional Russian village of Anatevka, peopled principally by Jews.
Tevye and his wife Golde (Shelly Cox-Robie) have five daughters: Tzeitel ( Jessica Hindsley), Hodel (Rebekah Ortiz), Chava (Sarah Grover), Bielke (Darrow Klein or Rachel Perez) and Shprintze (Tricia Moreland or Katlin Miller). Being a poor family, they are unable to offer any significant dowry for any of their daughters, so they rely on the local matchmaker, Yente (Barb Reeves), to find them suitable husbands.
As successful a matchmaker as Yente is reputed to be, her efforts are thwarted by Tzeitel, Hodel and Chava. In a time when matches were made by parents and matchmakers, all three girls presume to choose their own husbands. Each episode is accompanied by Tevye wrestling with his conscience via a humorous internal dialogue about whether the man is good enough for his daughter.
Against the microcosmic background of Tevye and Golde working to marry off their three eldest daughters, some broader social and political issues rear their sometimes ugly heads. Tevye is a fairly progressive man for being an early 20th century peasant Jew, but even he cannot abide interfaith marriage. The local constable (Scott Severtson) bears Tevye and the other Jews no particular ill will, but he is powerless to prevent the occasional pogrom or forced relocation. These real-world troubles lend Fiddler on the Roof a gravitas not shared by many other musicals and ensure that though it is an often-buoyant production, Fiddler is not a traditional feelgood piece of theatre.
Speaking of traditions, the music of Fiddler on the Roof is some of the most well-known and well-regarded in Broadway history. The first act is lush with memorable, sing-along staples like “Tradition,” which jauntily and efficiently lays out the structure of Anatevkan society. Tzeitel, Hodel and Chava go from schoolgirl anticipation of matrimony to wary circumspection about it during the course of “Matchmaker, Matchmaker.” Tevye daydreams good-naturedly about an easier life with “If I Were A Rich Man.” The bittersweet “Sunrise, Sunset” artfully expresses a parent’s joy and pain at seeing a child grow up and leave the nest. Wayne Kennedy is not a 20-something-year-old Adonis. He is, in fact, a middle-aged, follicularly challenged, lessthan-svelte everyman. Put in theatrical terms, he is a “character actor” rather than a lead. The thing is, Kennedy is also one of the best performers you’ll ever have the pleasure to see strut his stuff live on stage. So it is always with great happiness that I welcome the news that he has been given the lead in one of BDT Stage’s productions.
Tevye is the very soul of Fiddler on the Roof, and Kennedy plays him flawlessly. With his Einstein-reminiscent, tongue-sticking-out laugh and his shoulder-shimmying dance moves, he is the funniest Tevye you’ll ever see, which makes it that much more impressive when he also excellently communicates Tevye’s emotional conflicts and out-andout agony later in the show. Director Michael J. Duran’s choice to build Fiddler around Kennedy was an outstanding one.
Shelly Cox-Robie (obviously under the weather the night I saw Fiddler but still spot on — what a trouper) matches Kennedy scene for scene. Her and Kennedy’s duet, “Do You Love Me?” is an emotional highlight.
And as usual, the BDT orchestra plays the heck out of every number Fiddler on the Roof has to offer.