By Chuck Graham, TucsonStage.com
Tevye (Eric Polani Jensen) has one of his many conversations with God in "Fiddler on the Roof."
Everything is big in Arizona Theatre Company's fresh production of “Fiddler on the Roof,” greeting you with open arms through Dec. 31 at the Temple of Music and Art. Not just big, but bigger. And even bigger.
The set design by William Forrester depicts the tattered Jewish shtetl of Anatevka. Its patched together wooden walls start at the stage floor and stretch up to God's Heaven, which we can't see but feel sure is floating just above the theater's overhead rigging.
Anatevka is a fictitious place though we know intimately the weariness of those tired walls, warped and much the worse for wear. What gives us the sense that this hapless little village is held together by an enduring belief in Jewish tradition is the wall's long, wide mural hung near the top, based on the fantastical figures of Marc Chagall.
Every cast member has a voice that soars, as well. The Poppa, the Momma. The five spirited girls of the Poppa and the Momma.
It is even better when the three oldest young ladies, now of marriageable age, begin to sing. You can feel their longing for true love.
The chemistry of togetherness onstage is palpable. David Ira Goldstein as director sets this tone in the first number, when Tevye (Eric Polani Jensen) begins to talk about the importance of tradition.
Unassuming in both stature and manner, this Tvye believes in doing the right thing and wants to do the right thing, even when most of the time he isn't exactly sure which side God thinks is right.
This Tevye is a Poppa of more human scale. He doesn't tower over the village like Moses with a strong singing voice. At times this gray hapless place seems to tower over Tevye.
Not true, the Momma. Anne Allgood plays Golde with a strong voice and enthusiasm for her strident personality.
Of course these two are a perfect match for each other as we ride along on the whole cast's journey through “Matchmaker, Matchmaker,” “If I Were A Rich Man,” “Sunrise, Sunset” and all the rest, ending in that showstopper for the older set, “Do You Love Me?” sung by Tevye and Golde.
“Fiddler on the Roof” opened on Broadway in 1964, just as the civil rights movement was about to boil over in several summers of urban destruction. A box office smash, the show was instantly loved for its music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick and book by Joseph Stein.
For the next 57 years “Fiddler” was praised for its celebration of tradition, family and faith. Offering a beacon of civilized hope flashing through the daily tearing-down of culture pillars that had been revered in this country for centuries.
But seen in December of 2016, the show's prescient intent foreshadows negative change. Perchik (Patrick Shelton) the handsome communist revolutionary who wants to help overthrow the Tzar, says several times “It's a new world!” And every time he says it we are reminded of the recent Presidential election.
Back in the 1960s when “Fiddler” was new, “It's a new world” was a rallying cry of the boomer generation. The defiant Perchik and his ilk were going to free those village people from the chains of their own beloved tradition.
Now that we know the hope of those early years has brought us decades of turmoil and the election of Donald Trump, the shout of “It's a new world!” sounds like more of a threat. And the closing scenes of “Fiddler” -- as various villagers leave Anatvka to face an uncertain future in strange cities from Minsk to Chicago -- become filled with a certain poignancy that Bock, Harnick and Stein never intended.
"Fiddler on the Roof" continues through Dec. 31 with performances at various times at the Temple of Music and Art, 330 S. Scott Ave. Tickets are $25-$75, with discounts available. For details and reservations, 520-622-2823, or arizonatheatre.org
Running time is two hours, 45 minutes.