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‘Fiddler on the Roof’ a good time

The much-beloved musical "Fiddler on the Roof" has an unusual structure that can create problems.

The first act is funny in a vaudeville sort of way. Tevye, a poor, small-village milkman in 1907 Czarist Russia, is trying to live a holy life while raising five daughters and coping with a very opinioned wife. He’s constantly misquoting the Bible; trying, unsuccessfully, to rule his family with an iron fist; misunderstanding situations.

The second act is almost all seriousness. Jokes are replaced by violence.

I saw Zero Mostel do the role, and he was a great clown. In the film, Topol is much more three-dimensional. Both approaches have their drawbacks. Mostel seemed out of place in the dramatic second act, and Topol wasn’t nearly as amusing in the first.

Actor Byron Tidwell and director Joy Demain, in Super Summer Theatre/Jade Productions’ show, come close to the Mostel approach. Tidwell throws himself into the character with the ferocity of a veteran Catskill comic. Even though the result is one-dimensional, it’s a legitimate, enjoyable choice. Tidwell milks the humor for all it’s worth and plays big, so that he projects far back into the huge Spring Mountain Ranch park.

But Tidwell’s in-your-face mugging and vocalizing gets tiring. And the weight he gives his second-act scenes renders some of them mushy. The actor is obviously perfectly suited for the part, but the result makes you suspect Demain hasn’t given him proper guidance.

The rest of the cast is adequate. Too many characters are not believable. The major exception is John Wennstrom, who brings a freshness and vitality to the role of a hearty, earthy butcher, which feels uniquely his.

Ryan Balint’s playful set looks like a storybook, "Li’l Abner" cutout, and David Schulman’s lights give additional depth to Balint’s creations. Schulman uses a lot of merry, bright yellows in the comedic scenes and yet respects the script’s poignancy. He well-serves in very different ways both very different acts.

I can’t say this "Fiddler" is good theater, but it is a good time. Demain unfolds the story with expert grace. And Tidwell is a major, larger-than-life presence who commands attention. It would be Vegas’ gain if he were to do more local theater.

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at vegastheaterchat@aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.

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