Fiddler on the Roof. This production of Fiddler on the Roofdoes full justice to Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick's brilliant songs, tells the evocative story with clarity and feeling, and also — uniquely — sounds the musical's deeper, darker chords. The action is set in a rural Russian Jewish community whose members can be quarrelsome and petty or generous and helpful, but always unified by timeless bonds of ritual and tradition. At the center of the community is Tevye, a poor milkman struggling to survive and with five daughters to worry about. His worries come to a head when the three eldest daughters, each in turn, defy his patriarchal authority: Instead of submitting to the manipulations of matchmaker Yente, Tzeitel chooses the tailor Motel and only then asks her father's permission; Hodel falls in love with radical Marxist Perchik and prepares to follow him wherever his revolutionary work leads; and, worst of all, Chava marries outside the faith, choosing a Russian soldier. A lot of Tevyes come across like Jewish Santa Clauses, but Wayne Kennedy's version is a different animal entirely. He gives the comedy its due but lets us see the profound sadness beneath the jovial exterior — and something more. This man is loving to his children, generous to the stranger — as Jews are historically required to be — and jokey and argumentative with God. But there are deep currents of rage coursing through his veins as he contemplates the loss of everything he's cherished, including his little bird, his daughter Chava. The entire cast is strong and conveys a sense of authenticity and respect for Jewish history, and the menace humming beneath the action reminds us of the real dangers of the pogroms. Presented by BDT Stage (formerly Boulder's Dinner Theatre) through February 28 at 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder; for information, call 303-449-6000 or go to bouldersdinnertheatre.com. Reviewed December 4.
Miss Saigon. The plot of Miss Saigon is based on the opera Madame Butterfly, in which an American soldier takes a Japanese woman as a geisha wife — a temporary arrangement common during the early twentieth century — and then deserts her. Here it's Chris, a U.S. Marine falling in love with a seventeen-year-old Vietnamese girl and — in the midst of war and carnage — delighting in her gentle innocence. He is separated from her through no fault of his own and, once home, he eventually marries. But Kim still considers herself his wife, and she has some reason: After his departure, she gave birth to their child. I was intrigued to see Miss Saigon in a smaller venue, staged by a company that doesn't have tens of thousands of dollars for whiz-bang special effects. I had hoped the intimate setting would reveal subtle riches. But though the staging, including the helicopter scene, is ingenious, no one seems to have communicated the idea of intimacy to the music director or the sound designer — because the sound levels are excruciatingly loud. Rob Riney, who plays Chris, and Regina Fernandez Steffen, who plays Kim, have good voices; I know this because of their singing in the soft opening moments of their songs. But no sooner are those songs fully launched than the orchestra surges and the badly overmiked voices become distorted, ugly and assaultive. There are some high points: Keegan Flaugh, playing Chris's friend John, makes a very convincing Marine (which apparently he was) and has a fine voice. And Arlene Rapal is terrific as the cunning, profiteering pimp of an Engineer, coming across as a sort of mash-up of the Old Lady of Leonard Bernstein's Candide, who survived no matter how much trouble she found herself in; the salacious Emcee in Cabaret; and Brecht's titular heartless proto-capitalist in Mother Courage. There's also a nice performance from Abby McInerny as Chris's American wife, Ellen, and an exciting display of martial arts from Hao Liu. Presented by Vintage Theatre through February 1, 1468 Dayton Street, Aurora. vintagetheatre.org, 303-856-7830. Reviewed December 25.