After introducing audiences to their new theater with a splashy and spectacular hi-tech staging of "Miss Saigon," Manatee Players are going old-school with a traditional musical.
"Fiddler on the Roof," now nearing its 50th birthday, is based on a 19th-century story by Sholem Aleichem. The old-fashioned musical has never fallen out of popularity with theaters at every level.
Its songs, story and message make it one of the most frequently produced musicals by high schools, universities and community theaters around the country, and a national tour just a few years ago was a massive popular and critical success.
"In a word, it's a show about tradition," said Michael Bajjaly, who's playing Tevye in the Manatee Players production.
Tevye is the show's hero, an aging and weary milkman in czarist Russia whose life is bound by tradition, but who faces a changing world as his three daughters, one by one, eschew arranged marriages and instead choose love. His values are especially tested when one of his daughters announces she wants to marry a Gentile.
"How do keep the traditions that define your culture and still move forward? That's Tevye's dilemma," Bajjaly said.
Director Cheryl Carty said she's taking unconventional approaches to "Fiddler."
"For one thing, I'm integrating the character of the Fiddler into the play more," Carty said. "He's kind of like a Jiminy Cricket character. He's always trying to find this tenuous balance on the roof."
There's also a song in the second act called "The Rumor" that's usually cut. Carty said she can see why most directors eliminate the song because it's not especially melodic.
But after trying it out with the cast in rehearsals she started to develop an affection for the tune and included it.
The show's songs, with music by Jerry Bock and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, include several classics. Tevye's rousing "If I Were a Rich Man," is the most famous, but "Matchmaker, Matchmaker," "Sunrise, Sunset" and the opening "Tradition" are all familiar even to people who have never seen the show.
It's the second show in the Manatee Players' new home, but "Fiddler on the Roof" officially marks the end of the 2012-13 season. The 2013-14 season opens in August with "Les Miserables,"
Details: May 2-19, Manatee Performing Arts Center, 502 Third Ave. W, Bradenton. Show times: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $26-$36. Information: 941-748-5875 or www.manateeplayers.com.
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.