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Tradition meets pop at the 2006 Music Circus

Ron Orbach, as Tevye in <span style="">Fiddler on the Roof</span>, basks in the Music Circus’ air-conditioned comfort.

Ron Orbach, as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, basks in the Music Circus’ air-conditioned comfort.

The Music Circus is a little bit like baseball. Both are summer traditions. Both have fans with long memories, who pride themselves on that point. When the 55th year of Sacramento’s musical theater-in-the-round series opens this Friday with Fiddler on the Roof, “tradition” is likely to be the word on everyone’s lips.

This will be the 11th time the Music Circus has staged the venerable show (the first was 1971), but it will be the first production in the air-conditioned Wells Fargo Pavilion. For the first time, the actors wearing wool—which turns up in many of the show’s peasant costumes—won’t sweat through their songs in the old, hot canvas tent.

“It’s also got all-new scenery, the lighting in the pavilion is more effective, and we’ll be able to do more with the new stage,” said Music Circus artistic director Scott Eckern of the new production. “And you don’t have the distractions we had in the tent: the heat, the noise of trucks from nearby streets.”

Music Circus fans have seen about a half-dozen actors playing Tevye through the years, including the great Theodore Bikel, who’s performed the character more times than any other actor. This year the role goes to experienced Broadway performer Ron Orbach, who’s singing the part for the first time. (You may recall that Orbach directed a production of Laughter on the 23rd Floor at the Sacramento Theatre Company some years back.) Expect plenty of conversation during intermission as members of the audience, some of whom have been attending Music Circus for decades, compare Orbach with past Tevyes.

The Elton John/Tim Rice adaptation of Aida will follow, July 18 through 23. A touring production visited Sacramento in 2001, but this will be the first production of Aida for Music Circus. Because it will be staged in the round, rather than on the proscenium stage at the Community Center Theater, it will look quite different. The leading roles in Aida will be played by performers who are new to the Music Circus, but look for local favorite James Wheatley (artistic director of Celebration Arts) as the Nubian king Amonasro.

The third show, South Pacific, is another perennial and marks the return of stalwart Leland Ball, directing his 80th production for the Music Circus. Kerry O’Malley plays the female lead; she was a Drama Desk nominee in 2002 for the Broadway production of Into the Woods. The show runs July 25 through 30.

Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music comes next, playing August 1 through 6. The female lead is Nancy Opel, a 2002 Tony nominee for Urinetown. The Music Man follows August 8 through 13, with Leland Ball directing. Sarah Tattersall, who’s been Eliza Doolittle in four Music Circus productions of My Fair Lady, will play Marian the Librarian.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum runs August 15 through 20. Look for James Brennan—who’s played Henry Higgins, King Arthur and other leading roles in past Music Circus shows—and Ron Wisniski. He was a standout as Lumiere, the animated candelabra in last summer’s Beauty and the Beast.

Closing the series will be Smokey Joe’s Café. This show, based on the Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller songbook, includes hits like “Hound Dog,” “Yakety Yak,” “On Broadway” and “Stand By Me.” Running August 22 through 31, the production is returning because people have been asking for it since its first Music Circus run in 2002.

Overall, the season threads a careful path between classics from the 1950s that please the crowd that grew up before rock ’n’ roll, and newer shows that owe more to modern pop. This strategy, like so much else in the series, is a tradition.

Tickets for the 2006 Music Circus season are now on sale at the Wells Fargo Pavilion box office, located at 1419 H Street. Single tickets are $37 to $49, and series subscriptions are still available. Tickets also can be obtained by phone at (916) 557-1999 or ordered online at www.californiamusicaltheatre.com.