Times were changing when “Fiddler on the Roof” opened in 1964. The musical’s focus on the plight of poor Russian Jews at the turn of the 20th century and its broader theme of tradition versus change struck a note with those seeking to learn more about and preserve their cultural roots.

To begin their 85th season, the Portland Players has mounted a very good production of “Fiddler,” directed by Michael Donovan. The Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick, Jerome Robbins and Joseph Stein show, based on the stories of Shalem Aleichem, fills their wide stage in South Portland with much that is both amusing and moving. The story centers on the village of Anatevka where milkman Tevye complains to God a bit but basically enjoys life with his wife, their five daughters and his fellow villagers.

The older folks celebrate their commitment to keeping things the way they have always been as they fulfill their various artisanal and familial duties. The younger generation, particularly three of Tevye’s daughters who are finding true love, don’t like the tradition of matchmaking and want some say in who they will wed. The conflict created as the elders try to deal with this rebellion is a major theme of the show. Complicating and ultimately changing everything in a more radical way is the concurrent theme of the rise of anti-Semitism in Czarist Russia.

Mark Dils is excellent in the lead role of Tevye, a big, gruff patriarch with a heart of gold who somehow seems to balance tradition and adaptability. Whether thinking out loud in “on the one hand, on the other hand” decision-making moments or trying to gain cooperation from his hard-nosed wife, Golde, played by Barbara Laveault, he’s always looking for solutions that maintain stability and don’t completely forsake established customs. It was particularly evident in the passages where Dils’s Tevye reflects to himself on an uncertain future that we get the clearest understanding, through the actor’s skill, of the play’s way of moving beyond the specific situation of the characters to universal themes of family, community and religious belief.

Dils’s singing was strong on such classics as “Tradition” and “If I Were a Rich Man,” which also gave him an opportunity to try out some dance moves to the delight of the large crowd for Sunday’s matinée. His duet with Laveault on “Do You Love Me?” was a highlight of the second act.

Other of the show’s many highlights were spirited ensemble performances on “To Life” and “Sunrise, Sunset,” as well as a spooky take on “The Dream.”

To name a few standouts from the show’s large cast: Caryn Wintle, Lauren Bamford and Sophie Gould, as the marrying daughters, excelled together on “Matchmaker” and individually in their spotlighted moments. The young woman’s romantic concerns were effectively presented to resonate in a way that is remarkably contemporary, though set a time long ago.

In minor roles, Adam Gary Normand, as the Innkeeper, and Bill McCue, as the menacing constable, were memorable. Gwyneth Jones Nicholson was a mischievous Yente and Evan Cuddy got to open and close the show with his fine fiddle playing, both at stage level and from atop a wooden roof.

The set by Tim Baker provided a working-village ambiance and the costumes by director Donovan fit the period and cultural context well.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.