'Fiddler' entertaining and educational production for Gateway students
Students have been getting an education on their way to entertaining as they prepare to take the stage for Gateway High School's first performance of “Fiddler on the Roof.”
“What I love about this musical is that we get a chance to discuss Jewish traditions and customs with these students — things that they may not have known before,” Director Larry Cervi said.
Set in 1905 Imperial Russia, the musical tells the tale of Tevye — the town milkman — and his five daughters. Struggling to maintain Jewish traditions, Tevye must cope with his girls moving away from customs dear to him, fighting his beliefs and marrying for love instead of being assigned a mate through a matchmaker.
In order to ensure accuracy throughout the musical, Cervi recruited Rabbi Barbara Symons from Temple David in Monroeville to consult with the cast. Symons would explain to the students during rehearsals the reasoning behind the many Jewish customs that arise during the play.
“She explained to the kids why the bride walks around the table seven times, why the man doesn't see his wife before marriage,” Cervi said.
Playing his first lead role, junior Logan Jeung said portraying Tevye is an outlet for him to expand his singing and acting skills.
“He is the milkman of the village and really the story centers around his experiences and his many emotions,” Jeung said.
He said the show mixes humor and drama to focus on a theme that is relatable to most everyone: “The idea of trying to hold on to the past when you need to make a change,” Jeung said.
Senior Alyssa Travisano, 17, plays Golde, Tevye's wife. Also relating to her role, she loves the strong, female character.
“Her character shows that women have a say, too, and that's so important during that time,” Travisano said. “I can relate, because I know how to be stern and get my point across like her.”
With roughly 70 students between two casts, the production brings a large ensemble to the stage.
For senior William Ren, 18, who is one of two students who play Motel Kamzoil, the show is an opportunity to experience a production from a different perspective.
“I've been in the orchestral pit for the last several years, so this is my first time ever on stage,” Ren said. “It's a whole new group of people to work with and an entirely new way of rehearsing.”
Despite great singing and experienced acting, Cervi told his cast that the strongest part of the show is the dancing. So, when he and producer Jim Hoeltje — who also is Gateway's band director — were casting ensemble and dancing roles, gender was not taken into consideration. So, don't be surprised if you see a young woman dancer wearing a beard.
“Two things we didn't worry about when casting were race and gender,” Cervi said. “We have good, strong dancers that needed roles.”
Behind the actors and dancers will be the small town of Anatevka, a set designed by former Gateway High School parent Kim Marston.
“The set is to help everybody feel like they are in the Russian town of Anatevka quickly,” Marston said. “Once the audience is there, the rest of the time they should be too busy watching the kids and enjoying the show.”
Come opening night, Cervi said that the audience might be impressed most with the dancing numbers choreographed by Gateway alum Katie Kelly.
“The guys who are doing the acrobatics, now they're going to bring the house down,” Cervi said.
Christine Manganas is a freelance writer.