August 1, 2008

‘Fiddler’ Gets a Teen Perspective

By Mary Therese Biebel, The Times Leader, Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

Aug. 1--Yes, the bottles are really glass.

No, they're not glued to anyone's hat.

During a recent rehearsal for the Performing Arts Institute at Wyoming Seminary's production of "Fiddler on the Roof," wine bottles often wobbled and occasionally fell, no matter how hard a group of dancers tried to balance them on their heads as they pivoted, shifted weight from foot to foot and sank to their knees.

Only one dancer, Matt Brown from the state of Wyoming, seemed to have no trouble.

"You must have a fat head," other students teased. "Or a flat head."

"It's a perfect fit," Brown said, removing his hat and giving it a nonchalant twirl.

Elliot Schuler from Ohio balanced his bottle fairly well, too. "I rolled up my undershirt and put it right inside the hat to hold it steady," he explained.

The bottle-balancing dance, which takes place during a wedding scene, is fascinating to watch but represents only a fraction of what 37 young cast members are learning as they prepare for "Fiddler on the Roof" performances at 8 p.m. Thursday and Aug. 8 at the F.M. Kirby Center in Wilkes-Barre.

In addition to many nuances of stagecraft, director Bill Roudebush said, "I hope they learn compassion, understanding and how to deal with changes in their lives. Teens, of course, are going through dramatic changes."

For the main characters of "Fiddler on the Roof" -- Tevye the dairyman and his family -- life takes unexpected turns as the daughters break with tradition and marry men their father did not choose.

Eventually, along with other Jewish residents of their small Russian village, they're uprooted and forced to leave their home -- a bittersweet end to persecution at the hands of government officials.

Performing Arts Institute students had a chance to learn about Jewish music, traditions and culture from Cantor Aaron Abraham of Temple Israel and rabbinical student Melody Davis of Allentown, whose daughter, Annelise, is playing the role of Yenta, the matchmaker.

"She's a talkative know-it-all, a very nosy nag," Annelise Davis described her character. "She's very fun."

The show is rich in humor, thanks to Yenta and some of the other villagers. But it's most touching in its depiction of Tevye and how he relates to those he loves.

"This is a man who makes decisions but questions them. He agonizes over them," said Jason Sherry, a Wyoming Seminary faculty member whom Roudebush cast in that major role.

"I was searching and searching for a Tevye, and then I found him on campus, handing me a key to the computer room," Roudebush said. "God sent me a Tevye. I asked, 'Do you sing?' and he said yes."

Another singer -- Austin Pendleton, who originated the role of Tevye's first son-in-law, Motel the tailor, on Broadway -- will give the students a two-hour acting workshop next week. He may introduce the performance at the Kirby Center as well, Roudebush said.

Tickets are $16 general admission and $8 for students and senior citizens. Call 270-2186 for reservations.


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