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Students Choreograph Westfield's 'Fiddler'

For the first time ever, Westfield High's Cappie entry will be choreographed by students. And their efforts enable their school to be eligible for a Cappie nomination in this category.

Westfield's presenting the musical, "Fiddler on the Roof," and seniors Michelle Murgia, Megan Meadows and Tara Mitchell, all 18, are doing the choreography. All also have roles in the show. Meadows plays Tevye's wife, Golda; Murgia plays Yente the matchmaker; and Mitchell plays Shaindel, tailor Motel's mother.

The three girls have taken dance lessons and performed with studios, most of their lives, so for them, choreographing is a natural progression. "We were also on the school dance team together," said Mitchell. "We choreographed 'Midsummer Night's Dream,' but not for Cappies — and this production will be more extensive."

They began choreographing this show in February and are doing it as they go along. When Westfield Theater Director Scott Pafumi blocks a scene, said Mitchell, "he'll tell us what he wants for a particular dance. Megan, Michelle and I listen to the music and think of what the actors would be comfortable doing, what the audience would enjoy and what Mr. Pafumi sees as his vision."

The hardest part, said Mitchell, is teaching the moves to a cast of 50. "Because this cast is so big, it's difficult to get everybody's attention and have them cooperate," she said.

But she enjoys dancing with the other two girls "because we work really well together, so it's fun to come up with dances and see our dancing and theater come together." She said acting in the show, as well, is working out fine because Pafumi is "very understanding of our time."

DANCING SINCE age 3, Meadows was a dance captain in Show Choir, choreographing moves for the singers. Much of what she and the others create for "Fiddler," she said, "hinges on what it's supposed to look like, and it can't be too provocative."

Since the story takes place in 1905 Russia, they also have to understand the culture then. Meadows said probably the hardest dance they have to choreograph is a bar scene after Tevye, who's poor, agrees to let the wealthy Lazar Wolf marry his daughter Tzeitel.

"Some of the girls will play boys and wear pants because they can move better than the boys and are trained dancers," she said. "It has to be chaotic to make it seem realistic, and it's hard to get everyone to focus all at one time because there's an incredible number of people in that scene."

Meadows' favorite section is the dream sequence where Tevye is telling his wife that Tzeitel doesn't want to marry Wolf "because we can do anything we want with it. It's so open for interpretation and gives us more creative license.

Her toughest part, she said, is "being both in the show and a choreographer because, a lot of times, you have to be in the same place at once, so it's crazy. But since we have the same ideas and dance backgrounds, it's easy for Michelle, Tara and I to work together." And, added Meadows, it's definitely worth all the hard work: "I love choreography, and seeing the product — and being in it — is even better."

MURGIA SAID she and the other two girls also choreographed "Star-Crossed Lovers" in Westfield's recent One-Act Play Festival. As for "Fiddler," she said, "Once you get everyone focused on what they're supposed to do, it's really rewarding knowing that this is what it'll look like on stage."

She said it's challenging to get so many actors to do the same thing and make their movements clean, but twice-weekly, all-cast rehearsals give them time to practice their dances.

Murgia said their job involved research so the dances would be "proper to the time and the culture." A hard number to choreograph was the bottle dance, where men had to dance with bottles on top of their hats, without them falling off. "It's difficult because it takes training, so you need dancers that have the ability to do it," she said.

Her favorite portion of the show is the bar scene because of the song, "L' Chaim," a toast meaning "To life!" Said Murgia: "It's a great song, and it's a mixture of traditional Jewish dancing and Russian dancing."

She enjoys choreographing because "it's an extra challenge and you're satisfied when you're done with the whole play. It's a great opportunity to keep dancing and, to do it at school and for other people, is great."

As Yente, said Murgia, her scheduling usually works out so she's not choreographing when she has to be on stage. "It's an extra stress because you're worrying about the choreography and have to take responsibility for it," she said. "But it works out because we have the confidence that we rehearsed enough — and it always comes together."