"Fiddler on the Roof" has fiddled its way through runs of a couple years at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres, but we probably won't see Tevye and clan there any time soon.
"I've done five 'Fiddler's,' four 'My Fair Lady's,' three 'Oklahoma's.' They're great shows and they'll outlive us all, but I'm done with that," said artistic director Michael Brindisi, who is jazzed by newer fare such as "The Prom," which begins previews this weekend before opening Feb. 17, or "Footloose," which just closed.
"I'm in love with 'Hairspray' and 'The Prom' and 'Mamma Mia,' " said Brindisi, on a rehearsal break. "Even pre-COVID, audiences were telling us they wanted the newer stuff and I was like, 'Bring it on!' "
He's not talking about the cheerleading musical "Bring It On!" (although who knows?). He means newer fare such as "Jersey Boys," which he'll open in June, and "The Prom," which had a 10-month Broadway run and a star-studded Netflix adaptation.
Brindisi saw it on Broadway, along with wife Michelle Barber, daughter Cat Brindisi and son-in-law David Darrow, all of whom are actors. They loved it.
"I said, 'Oh, God, somebody wrote an old-fashioned musical comedy like they used to write,' " Brindisi recalled.
Loosely inspired by a true story, "The Prom" finds two sets of characters meeting in an Indiana high school. Dee Dee (played by Jodi Carmeli) and Barry (Tod Petersen) are Broadway not-quite-stars who try to boost their fading images by helping teenager Emma (Monty Hays). Her Indiana school responded to parent protests by canceling its prom rather than allowing her to bring girlfriend Alyssa (Maya Richardson). Despite little experience in proms, small towns or being actual human people, the Broadway vets resolve to put on a show — er, prom.
Brindisi has not been a teenager for 55 years, but he feels a strong attachment to the romance of "The Prom." In fact, if he cast himself in a dream "Prom," he'd play Emma, who he believes was fated to meet Alyssa and — as one song in the show insists — change lives.
"I've been married twice. I fell in love with Michelle in the hallway of the dressing room here. And she and I had Cat. And Cat found David and they had Henry, our grandson. And I honestly believe those were not dots we connected. They were somebody else's dots. In the heavens," said Brindisi.
The director believes the trick of the show is balancing youthful romance with the theater-satirizing comedy of the Broadway invaders, who can't bother to learn the name of the town and who insist, in song, "This is how actors intervene/With fiery songs and dance breaks."
"We were doing the scene where the two girls break up. It has a lot of heart, a lot of meat, to it. The actors were playing it really well and we were all kind of getting teary at rehearsal. I said, 'You know, if the rest of the show gets too broad this stuff won't play,' " Brindisi said.
Those human connections led Martin Tackel to invest in the Broadway production, which he saw 14 times: "Kids were nuts about the show but, very beautifully, so were parents. Adults. A lot of that passion was because it's a very personal show."
Brindisi likens the unquantifiable mix of humor and heart to his mom's little-of-this/little-of-that cooking.
"I am constantly saying in rehearsal, 'Not much more. A little more, but not much,' " said Brindisi. "The comedy has to come from someplace real. That's exactly what Tod is doing."
Petersen, who played the lead in Artistry's 2016 "The Drowsy Chaperone" — also written by Bob Martin and also at least a little autobiographical — plays a third-tier actor who drops his glitzy facade to bond with Emma, a fellow outsider.
Brindisi is clearly a fan of how Petersen plays the role. "He is a funny human but it's not 'The Tod Petersen Show.' He is his character, being funny."
Although some audiences have requested new shows, they remain risky for Chanhassen, which struggled at the box office with new plays such as "Xanadu" and "Hairspray."
Chanhassen knows "The Prom" won't do as well as 2021's "The Music Man," so it's budgeted for a shorter-than-usual four-month run. Brindisi has pondered finances since he told Chanhassen board president Doug Lennick he wanted to do it.
"I said, 'I don't think it's going to sell because some of our audience is going to be turned off by the lesbian thing. He said, 'Why did you pick it?' I said, 'It's important, it's funny, it's an upbeat, positive show and I care about the future,' " said Brindisi, adding that Lennick framed "Prom" as a long-term investment for the theater.
"He said: 'Quit thinking about when you're going to do it and start thinking about how you're going to do it,' " recalled Brindisi.
Brindisi asked Chanhassen ticket sellers to be frank about the show, and they've heard from theatergoers who said they're not interested. But others have said they look forward to coming with LGBTQ family members.
Ultimately, the folks behind "The Prom" don't think it's controversial.
"Our show is about acceptance and tolerance and love, realizing that people from all walks of life have a lot in common," said Dori Berinstein, a producer of the Broadway and Netflix versions.
"It's a fable, really, about what life could be like if we just all got together," Brindisi said. "And that's beautiful."
Who: Songs by Chad Beguelin and Matthew Sklar. Book by Beguelin and Bob Martin. Directed by Michael Brindisi.
When: 8 p.m. Tue., 1 & 8 p.m. Wed., 8 p.m. Thu.-Fri., 1 & 8 p.m. Sat., 6:30 p.m. Sun. Ends June 10.
Where: Chanhassen Dinner Theatres, 501 W. 78th St., Chanhassen.
Tickets: $53-$93, 952-934-1525 or chanhassendt.com.