In recent years, productions of Fiddler on the Roof at Chesapeake Music Hall have featured David Reynolds' imposing take on Tevye the Dairyman, the Ukrainian Jew perched so precariously between religious tradition and onrushing modernity in pre-Revolutionary Russia.
But the multitalented Reynolds is no longer a Music Hall regular, and the prize role has been passed to Alan Hoffman, the theater's new lead player, who has made his mark in productions such as A Christmas Carol, Funny Girl and Copacabana.
Hoffman gives us a lighter, more down-to-earth Tevye possessed of an ingratiating flair for conversation and a deft comic touch.
"A bird may love a fish, but where would they build a home together?" he asks his daughter Chava, who is about to break his heart by marrying outside the faith. The charm with which Hoffman delivers the line makes the pain all the more real when it comes.
This Tevye also sings exceptionally well, lending rich dignity to the haunting "Sabbath Prayer" sung as the stage is bathed in the glow of ritual candlelight kindled to usher in the Day of Rest.
Alas, Hoffman receives only intermittent support from an anemic recorded tape, which robs "Tradition," "If I Were a Rich Man" and "To Life!" - the score's biggest hits - of some of their impact. (In the middle of "Tradition," the show's important opening montage, it stopped playing altogether.) Nevertheless, the star has the dramatic presence to make the songs connect despite the wimpy accompaniments.
He also has a talented ensemble to play off of.
Carol Cohen, though less than immaculate in matters of pitch, is delightful as ever as Tevye's shrewish but well-intentioned wife, Golde. Their "Do You Love Me?" duet had a large Saturday night crowd sighing sympathetically as the couple united by an arranged marriage they had no say in professed love for each other after 25 years of poverty and backbreaking labor in virulently anti-semitic Czarist Russia.
Mary Armour-Kaiser is attractive and vibrant as Tzeitel, the eldest daughter who flouts tradition by pledging love to her childhood sweetheart, Motel the Tailor, before clearing it with Papa.
Jonathan Glickman also is delightful as the bumbling young tailor who grows to maturity when forced to fight for his true love's hand.
Katy Smith is touching as Hodel, the daughter who forsakes her family to follow her boyfriend (a political agitator) to Siberia, where he has been exiled as an enemy of the state. Her betrothed is played with imperious flair by Anthony Gallagher.
Most affecting of all is Laura Needle as Chava, the daughter who does the unthinkable by marrying Fyedka, her Russian Orthodox suitor, played sympathetically by Ronnie Schronce.
The energy level brought to the stage by the ensemble of matchmakers, butchers, rabbis and townspeople is admirably high. The wedding scene (complete with the famous "Bottle Dance") is quite effective.
Unfortunately, some telling moments in the story line are missed.
When Motel blurts out that he and Tzeitel have pledged to marry without asking permission, Tzeitel should register horror at this breach of security guaranteed to send her father into orbit.
When the Russian lad starts singing wedding congratulations in the tavern, the Jews should recoil at the young gentile's crossing of the socioreligious barrier, not stand around admiring his high-G.
And why no sight gag when Motel reveals that the "new arrival" everyone's all excited about is his new sewing machine?
Downright hilarious is the uneven costuming. Beards are right out of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show.
Lazar Wolf, the affluent butcher also seeking Tzeitel's hand, wears a vest and cowboy hat that look lifted from Bret Maverick's closet, while Perchik, the young radical, is decked out (honest!) in a hooded sweat shirt - as redolent of Jewish life in Eastern Europe as a pulled-pork sandwich. Oy vey!
Fiddler on the Roof plays at the Music Hall through November, so there's plenty of time to get some of these little things right.
Chesapeake Music Hall is at 339 Busch's Frontage Road off U.S. 50 in Annapolis. Information or reservations: 410-626- 7515.