Young revolutionaries

Fiddler on the Roof

During rehearsal, Geoff Sperle (Tevye) looks to Caitlin Collins (Golde) as his daughters prepare to leave him.

During rehearsal, Geoff Sperle (Tevye) looks to Caitlin Collins (Golde) as his daughters prepare to leave him.

Photo By David Robert

You wouldn’t think a play about anti-Semitism in 1905 czarist Russia would be funny or that high schoolers would find it interesting. But the nearly 40 students at Damonte Ranch High School appearing in Fiddler on the Roof this weekend would disagree with you.

“This is a really hard show to do, which is why it’s special,” says drama teacher and show director Rod Hearn. It’s tough, he explains, because not only does it require the actors to sing, dance and speak with accents, but it’s also a heart-wrenching story. Although many of Fiddler‘s characters are hilarious, the story is quite sad, requiring performances full of depth and emotion. Not only that, but the minimal set and low-key costuming place performances front and center.

Based on the 1894 short story by Sholom Aleichem titled “Tevye the Milkman,” Fiddler on the Roof tells the story of Tevye (Geoff Sperle) and his wife, Golde (Caitlin Collins), who live with their five daughters in Anatevka, a village steeped in Jewish traditions. Among these is that of arranging marriages through matchmakers. Meanwhile, Russia has begun to experience segregation; Jews are being forced to leave their homes, and small villages like Anatevka are in danger of losing their traditions as they are ripped apart. Tradition means everything.

Yente, the matchmaker (Brandie Sharp), has been hired by Tevye to find suitable husbands for his daughters, who have plans of their own. The three oldest, Tzeitel (Mandy Orrill), Hodel (Liz Mahoney) and Chava (Kelly Niemann) have each fallen for men who are somehow unsuitable. Tevye is torn between his daughters’ happiness and his long-respected traditions.

While many schools choose Fiddler with a “ringer” in mind, an actor born to play the demanding lead, Hearn is excited to have Sperle, a theater newcomer, playing Tevye—especially because Sperle is also on the Damonte Ranch football team. “I’m proud that [Geoff’s] decided to break stereotypes and sing, dance and act for us, and he’s doing a great job.”

Sperle, a sophomore, says that although he’d always been curious about acting, he’d never considered pursuing it until his friend, Casey Brenner (who plays the bookseller, Avram), became nervous about auditioning. “I went to try out just to make him more comfortable, and I got the lead!” says Sperle.

His biggest challenge lies in portraying Tevye’s range of emotions effectively. “It goes from being really happy and fun to taking a turn, and then it’s really sad. His daughters are leaving,” he says, adding, “Plus, I’m supposed to be a 50-year-old man.”

Liz Mahoney, the sophomore who plays Hodel, says this is her 11th show at Damonte Ranch. And while she’s no stranger to the stage, this show is a challenge.

“Hodel always speaks her mind, she’s very outgoing and demonstrative,” she says.

Hearn says that many older people will appreciate the show for its many recognizable tunes (such as “If I Were a Rich Man” and “Matchmaker") and its complex themes. (As a side note, this show uses new technology called OrchExtra, which is a program where live music is recorded, and then smaller orchestras (of three or four people) can play along with it and it sounds like a full orchestra.) Younger people will enjoy Fiddler‘s message and humor.

“I think they can relate to it, because it deals with parent-child relationships, and how parents want to stick to traditions, but their children end up bucking the system and branching out on their own.”