The musical, "Fiddler on the Roof," is an ambitious undertaking for any theater group, but Stone Middle School drama director Lois Walsh says her pluckly thespians are definitely up for it.
"I have 47 very spirited, healthy, loud and energetic cast and crew members," she said. "This one's a challenge because it's a period piece, so the gestures and sayings have to be appropriate. To show happiness, they can't give each other 'high fives.'"
FURTHERMORE, said Walsh, "I had to make the kids understand why breaking tradition in a small village in 1905 Russia was such a big deal. But they have enthusiasm and talent, and they're doing a good job."
"Fiddler on the Roof Jr.," an abbreviated version of the classic, will be presented Thursday, Dec. 1 at 3:30 p.m. (advance ticket sales only), Friday, Dec. 2, at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, Dec. 3, at 3:30 p.m. in the school theater. Tickets are $5.
The show tells the story of a Jewish family steeped in tradition and what happens when the three eldest daughters fall in love. Suddenly, they're going head-to-head with their father — whom they've always obeyed — when they break tradition to follow their hearts.
Playing Tevye, the father, a poor dairy farmer, is eighth-grader Daniel Woodman. "He's not shy," said Daniel. "He's a wise man who's protective of his five daughters, and he's a good husband and father. He doesn't want to break tradition because he believes that, without it, a man wouldn't know who he is and there would be total chaos."
Although he has lots of lines to memorize, Daniel's enjoying his role. "It's fun getting together with my friends, after school and on Saturdays, to rehearse," he said. "And I like attention, so this is a great thing."
Phoebe Dillard, daughter of Westfield High theater teacher Zoe Dillard, plays Tevye's wife Golde. "She's the homemaker and cleaner and takes care of the children," said Phoebe. "She's in control of the household and does pretty much what she wants to do."
As for her part, she said, "I love it — it's awesome. I admired how Megan Meadows played it [at Westfield], and my mom played, it, too." She loves singing, and her favorite number in "Fiddler" is "Sabbath Prayer." Said Phoebe: "I like the quiet tone of it, and it's a pretty song. Tevye and I look down at our children and sing it."
Seventh-grader Avery Hobbs, 12, portrays the second-oldest daughter, Hodel. She falls in love with the teacher and revolutionary, Perchik. "I'm anxious to get married," she said. "It's fun playing this role because I'm the only one in the family who wants a match."
Her favorite song is the poignant "Far From the Home I Love," sung while waiting at the train station with her father before heading to Siberia to join Perchik. Said Avery: "I get to sing it by myself and show emotion in that song."
Emily Howell, 14, plays eldest daughter, Tzeitel. "She wants to marry Motel the tailor, and she's nurturing toward her younger sisters," said Emily. "She's also stubborn and fights for what she wants."
SHE LIKES the "Matchmaker" number best because "I like the scene where all the sisters play around and the lyrics and choreography. I talk the other sisters out of wanting matches for themselves."
Regarding the show, she said, "We have a really good cast with so much talent and we all work well together. [And 'Fiddler'] really shows what these people were going through."
Portraying the third-oldest daughter, Chava, is Katie Reilly. "Chava is outgoing and wanting to try new things," she explained. "She reads a lot and runs away with a Russian soldier."
Katie likes being a main character and "showing affection onstage for my sisters and mother." And, she added, "The audience will like how the emotion comes out to them and how the people onstage interact with them."
Nida Syed, 12, is matchmaker Yente. "She's a fussy, old woman who makes [marriage] matches and is friends with Golde," she said. "My lines are funny, and it's great to hear people laugh at my jokes." Nida also likes the "Matchmaker" song because "they're singing about me."
Playing Lazar Wolf — who Yente tries to match up with Tzeitel — is John-Nicholas Walsh, 14. "He knows what he wants and is proud to be wealthy," said John-Nicholas. The show's meaning, he said, is that "tradition, even though it's important, sometimes needs to be bent for people's best interests."
Michael Polson, 13, plays Motel. "He's a poor tailor in love with Tzeitel, and they're trying to find a way to marry with Tevye's blessing," said Michael. "He's shy, but he's got some courage and learns to stand up to people." He likes the song, "Tradition" best because the entire cast sings it together.
Zack Walsh, 10, is the fiddler. His last two roles were Sandy the dog in "Annie Jr." and Woodstock the bird in "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown," so he's thrilled to finally get to make facial expressions. "I don't have any lines, but the fiddler's important as the spirit of their tradition," he explained. "They let me almost fall, now and then, to symbolize their shaky existence. I'm not sure why they cast me as the fiddler, though — I'm afraid of heights."
Stage manager Kelsey Grainer, 13, readies the props, quiets people during rehearsals and makes sure things run smoothly. And sound manager Morgan Buckner sets up sound equipment and mikes and is in charge of the fog machine and train whistle. Paul Walsh, director Lois' husband, helped design and make the sets, and she did choreography.
"I was in an off-Broadway production of "Fiddler" as a kid and fell in love with the music," she said. "I think the audience will enjoy the characters' feeling of camaraderie and unity — that they were in it together, neighbor helping neighbor."