There's no doubt that the beautiful 1,888-seat Paramount Theatre in Aurora is giving Chicago's downtown Broadway show theater district some very tough ticket competition.
The Paramount is wrapping up a second season of a top-notch locally produced Broadway musical series, while already boasting nearly 20,000 subscribers, with the all-time family classic "Fiddler on the Roof," for a not-long-enough run through March 24 and with full orchestra.
Set in the primitive mountain villages of Russia in 1905, this is the story of Tevye the Milkman, played to perfection by actor David Girolmo, with a twinkle in his eye and barely recognizable under that beard.
"Fiddler," the tale of a modest family, built on a foundation of faith, religion and tradition, with five strong-willed daughters, all facing a quickly changing world, is more relevant now than ever for audiences of all ages.
Based on the book "Tevye and his Daughters" by Sholem Aleichem, "Fiddler on the Roof" stars the music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick and the book by Joseph Stein, featuring a song list with some of the most popular titles in musical theater including "Tradition," "If I Were a Rich Man," "Far From the Home I Love," "Matchmaker, Matchmaker," "Miracles of Miracles" and "Sunrise, Sunset."
Directed with charm and emotion by Jim Corti, many of the cast of returning favorites, familiar faces from the 2007 production of "Fiddler" that played at Theatre at the Center in Munster, including the wonderful duo of Iris Lieberman as Tevye's bossy wife Golda and venerable Renee Matthews as her gossiping matchmaker pal Yenta.
As the oldest daughter Tzeitel, who wants to marry the village's poor tailor, actress Kelley Abell leads one of the best renditions of "Matchmaker, Matchmaker," I've ever seen. However, when it comes to her big scene, peppered with tears, to convince her father not to force her into an arranged marriage, she is not so convincing. But actress Brooke Singer, who plays her sister Chava, hopelessly in love with a man from the side of the village's enemy army, makes up for Tzeitel's lack of tears and emotion with a heart-wrenching and gripping scene begging her father to acknowledge her.
I was less impressed with the set and costuming for this production. Usually, a cozy cottage and quaint village frame an inviting backdrop for the story. But in this case, Kevin Depinet's rustic look seems more Old West ghost town than mountain structure landscape.
And for my favorite scene for the song and sequence called "The Dream," costume designer Melissa Torchia took much of the fun away from the foreboding ghost of the town butcher's deceased first wife Fruma-Sarah. She still towers, but without the white face, and sans wisps of gray hair poking from her hood, and her usual trademark over-sized pearls and long fingernails are also absent. Some of the choreography Gordon Peirce Schmidt misses moments as well, including some odd blocking at the start of the First Act, which has the characters walking wide around, and in front of, the action taking place, to represent arrivals and departure from the non-existent walls of the family home. Also, in the dream sequences, spirited ghost of Golda's grandmother, who is usually hoisted in the air to punctuate the urgency of her message from beyond, remains with feet and cane firmly planted on the floor. Even the silly crashing cymbals of the dream wedding, used to frustrate Tevye, are MIA.
But this is certainly still a musical well worth the trek. Tickets are $34.90 to $46.90 and the Paramount Theatre is located at 23 E. Galena Boulevard in Aurora, Illinois. FYI: (630) 896-6666 or visit ParamountAurora.com.