No time for fluff when it comes to J.E. Harrison Middle School's 'Fiddler'

| Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013, 9:03 p.m.

Tradition is a fitting word for this year's musical theater cast at J.E. Harrison Middle School in Whitehall.

The middle school's musical theater will perform “Fiddler on the Roof Jr.” for three nights starting Feb. 24. The 80-person cast will be accompanied by a student pit and stage crew.

“We have a very, very talented, hard-working group of kids,” said Kathy Hawk, the show's director and one of the school's music teachers.

The play is the one-act shortened version of the musical about Tevye, his family and the other residents in the village of Anatevka, a small Jewish community, dealing with a changing world, and an increasingly anti-Semitic Russia at the beginning of the 20th century.

The show is a challenge for students; the plot is a stark contrast to last year's “Beauty and the Beast Jr.” and 2011's “Alice in Wonderland Jr.,” Hawk said. Likewise, there is more dialogue and character development and almost the entire score is in minor keys.

“I wanted to get them away from that,” Hawk said. “They need to get away from the fluff. They've taken it pretty seriously.”

Eighth-grader Katie Zemaitis, who plays the role of Hodel, said the cast embraces a more serious show.

“We've always done happy little musicals ... It's different from other shows,” Zemaitis said. “It's not show tunes. I actually like it.”

Producing the most professional show possible is something Hawk instills in the students, Zemaitis said. Of Hawk, the students are fans of her straight-shooting form of directing.

“She knows what she's doing,” Zemaitis said.

The goal is to expose children to theater by teaching them stage terms, character development, vocal harmony and more, Hawk said. This exposure prepares them to go onto Baldwin High School's theater program.

“The kids know my expectations ... I want them to get used to stage directions,” Hawk said. “For the most part, this is what they get musically ... Some of them have never danced a box step before.”

On Jan. 31, the cast practiced the song “Anatevka” several times until the four-part harmony was audible.

“Here's the problem — you all think you're sopranos and you're not,” Hawk said. “It's so much better when there is harmony.”

Likewise, when a student forgot a line, Hawk reminded her how to respond.

“Yell ‘Line' then,” Hawk said.

The show is split into two casts, which allows more people to be involved, said Laura Basciotta, an eighth-grader who plays the role of Yenta.

Nineteen boys auditioned for the show, which has many male roles, Hawk said.

“It's more guys that I've had ever,” she said.

For a show that is so much about traditional gender roles, there are some strong females, which the girls said they liked.

Eighth-grader Erin McGrady, who plays the role of Chava, said she enjoys when the girls come together for such songs as “Matchmaker,” while the full cast is showcased in “Tradition” and “L'Chaim.”

Still Zemaitis said the show is full of surprises, especially with some tricks in the set design.

“(Everyone) should come because it's going to be pretty awesome,” Zemaitis said.

Laura Van Wert is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5814 or at

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