If Broadway audiences ever voted on a "Favorite Show," it's likely that 1964's Fiddler on the Roof would be at or near the top.
Its themes of love, generational conflict, racial prejudice and religious persecution are timeless and speak to everyone everywhere.
That probably explains why it set Broadway attendance records, has won every possible award, both in the original and in subsequent revivals, played in theaters around the world, and is a perennial favorite of community theater performers and audiences alike.
Now the youth wing at Stage West Community Playhouse is doing a shortened version of the beloved musical, appropriately called Fiddler on the Roof Jr., with young (some very young) actors, singers and dancers doing all the parts.
It's pared down from its nearly three-hour length to about 90 minutes, including intermission, but the basic story and most of the songs by composer Jerry Bock and lyricist Sheldon Harnick are included, albeit in shortened form.
Those who have seen the original musical can fill in the blanks mentally, but even first-timers will catch the major story lines and remember them.
Set in 1905 czarist Russia, Fiddler is the story of a poor Jewish dairyman, Tevye (Jacob Rice), and his wife from an arranged marriage, Golde (Lauren Alagna), who are raising five daughters.
In traditional Jewish homes, the parents arrange their daughters' marriages with the help of the Yente (Lauren Ballard). In Tevye's household, though, the girls have minds of their own, thanks in part to the "radical" young teacher from Kiev, Perchik (Alex Garcia).
The three eldest — Tzeitel (Melissa Alagna), Hodel (Julia Rifino) and Chava (Kristen Ballard) — sing about the matchmaker, suddenly realizing they "could be stuck for good" to a bad man.
Tzeitel is pledged by her father to the old, plump but rich butcher Lazar Wolf (a well-padded Christian Gonzalez), but loves Motel the tailor (Nick Martinez). Tevye comes up with a novel idea to convince his wife to let Tzeitel marry Motel instead of Lazar.
Then Hodel falls for Perchik, and they tell Tevye they plan to marry, instead of asking for his permission. Tevye relents.
But when Chava falls in love with the non-Jewish Russian soldier Feydka (Jonathan Linstad), it is beyond what Tevye can endure, leading to the melancholy conclusion of the musical.
Director Jessica Nichol said she was concerned at first about how the young actors would relate to the tragic themes in the plot, especially the violent, racist behavior of the Constable (William Vonada) and Russian soldiers against the Jewish peasants.
Now, after weeks of rehearsal, she says she is gratified by the mature way the young actors have handled their characterizations and responded to and understood the serious subject matter.
"Everything is going wonderfully," she said.
Michelle Alagna is choreographer and Donna Alagna is doing the costumes.