Education

April 30, 2014

‘Fiddler on the Roof’ at Charlotte Christian School

A Jewish fable with modern resonance gets a valuable revival.

“Fiddler on the Roof” is a powerful piece that follows the events of a poor Jewish family in Russia 1905, a musical full of the traditions of Jewish culture and instances of what happens to those who defy them. It’s a difficult choice for a high school theater group, but Charlotte Christian School (well known for excellent musicals) offered audiences a well-crafted and lively performance of this cherished classic.

The story follows Tevye, a poor dairyman in the town of Anatevka who works day and night to support his sharp-tongued wife and five daughters. Theirs is a world of tradition. The mother cleans the house; the father wins the bread. So when Tevye’s daughters begin to explore more modern concepts of politics and romance by reading books and defying the town matchmaker, the old dairyman is thrust into the tumult of an age brimming with radicals, reform and Russian oppression of Jews.

Graham Baker perfectly captured the personality of Anatevka’s dairyman. He offered wonderful variety in his acting, his voice rising and falling with the complex emotions of his character. Not once did this seem like a high schooler playing an adult: His singing voice covered a massive range of pitches and found sadness and humor, glee and confusion, as he crafted a realistic man to whom the audience could relate. Cecilia Wooten, who played Golde, Tevye’s harsh and stubborn wife, was consistently strong and clear in her acting choices. Though she is stern and set in her ways, Wooten allowed the audience to sympathize with Golde by displaying enduring love for her children, even as closely held traditions degrade.

Emma DeVelde and Evan Ector, who played the young couple Hodel and Perchik, created a humorous yet sincere relationship that had the audience laughing and crying with the ups and downs of their complicated romance. Though Nathan Pillmore gave an earnest performance as Motel the Tailor, he struggled with high notes in “Miracle of Miracles.” Haley Putnam’s accent may have been closer to New York than Anatevka as the meddling matchmaker, but she pulled a joke out of every line and had the audience grinning from the time she hobbled onto the stage.

Several elderly male characters were played by females. This was distracting, as the actresses were clearly not men, and they often seemed more concerned with deepening their voices than focusing on their characters. The ending of the performance also felt slightly rushed, as if the cast might come back on and perform one final number. However, the ensemble as a whole was brimming with energy; there was never a dull moment in lively numbers such as “To Life” and “Wedding Dance.” More somber numbers such as “Anatevka” were handled with grace and heart.

The small town was created by a series of mobile, well-crafted home and store fronts in a versatile set. Though the performance took place in Charlotte Christian’s gymnasium, a combination of lighting and curtains created a lovely intimate feel. The result was a window into a world of injustice and perseverance, a world that a modern audience, familiar with terrorism and persecution, can connect to.

Any production where audience members gleefully shout “Mazel tov!” during intermission must be the enticing product of a considerable amount of preparation. From the Fiddler’s Market concession stand to the dedicated performers onstage, it was evident that Charlotte Christian School’s “Fiddler on the Roof” was such a production.

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