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RHS’s ‘Fiddler’ plays entertaining tune
Riverton High School actors Sean Thornton, standing left, and Jessica Johnson, right, backed by the cast in a scene from "Fiddler on the Roof," opening Friday at the Robert A. Peck Arts Center and continuing Saturday and Tuesday. Admission is $5 for adults, free to RHS students and children. Photo by Robert H. Peck

RHS production plays entertaining tune

May 25, 2012 - By Robert H. Peck

The Riverton High School Drama Club's spring musical "Fiddler on the Roof" presents a group of people struggling to balance a precarious existence against tides of violence and modernity. But though its characters are often living on shaky footing, the show is not.

Always a popular choice for professional and amateur theater groups alike, "Fiddler" has found its third successful staging in local theater memory, this time at the hands of RHS drama director Annette Thornton.

Her adroit cast members play the parts of men and women much more aged and weary than themselves with a level of skill usually reserved for older actors.

Chief among the weary men is Tevye (junior Jace Flanagan), an impoverished milkman who devotes himself to Jewish traditions even as he questions why he and his family must lead such a difficult life.

Tevye's wife Golde (junior Asia Carr), is eager to see her oldest daughters married, preferably to rich men. When the wealthy village butcher Lazar Wolf (sophomore Nathaniel Esposito) asks Tevye for the hand of his eldest, Tzetiel (junior Jaden Brummond), Golde is delighted.

Tevye is easily persuaded by the promise of a comfortable life for his daughter and a strong drink for himself, both courtesy of the butcher. Tzetiel is less than enthusiastic, though -- she wants to marry her childhood friend and longtime romantic hopeful, Motel (junior Dallin Cooper), the village's poor tailor.

Suffice to say that this conflict of interests does not end well for Lazar.

Stage presence

Because he has a major role in almost half of the show's musical numbers, the actor who tackles Tevye needs to have confidence and commanding stage presence. In this regard, the hopeful audience member needs look no further than Flanagan, whose booming voice and imposing stature allow him to take control of any scene.

Brummond, too, dazzles in her role. Of the show's numerous female characters, hers is one of the few who can truly influence her family's decisions, and Brummond's subtle performance shows that Tzetiel's calm confidence holds such sway with her sisters and father. When push comes to shove about Tzetiel's marriage, Tevye sides with her over his wife, his promises to Lazar, and the village matchmaker, and Brummond doesn't leave the audience wondering why.

Strong support

Much of this production's strength comes from characters who play more minor roles. Though their parts aren't strictly billed as leads, Esposito's rendition of Lazar Wolf and junior LaRae Pierson's portrayal of Yente, the village matchmaker, are among the best in the show. The rabbi (junior Sam Stagner) is good for some laughs, despite the fact that he scarcely speaks five lines in the entire musical.

One of "Fiddler's" key elements is the pressure placed on Tevye and his fellow Jews by Russian authorities, called simply "the Russians," who menace the Jewish characters throughout the musical, ultimately expelling them from their village outright.

Wrestlers shine

The Russians have physically demanding roles, including several coordinated acrobatic and dance numbers, and actors portraying them need be in top physical shape. Thornton's well-picked answer to this challenge has been to recruit members of the RHS wrestling team to play the parts. Rudy Batista, Beau Batista and Dawson Steeds, with senior drama student Sam Myers, perform the spectacular "bottle dance" as choreographed by Lily Schamp.

The wrestlers deserve commendation both for their willingness to be involved with the show and for their carefully-rehearsed choreography. In terms of physical mastery of the stage, these unconventional Russians steal the show.

Tech success

Topping off a playbill of skilled actors and actresses is the technical theater crew, which brings the small Jewish village of Anatevka to life strikingly well. Though it's his first time coordinating lights for a full show, junior Quentin Lance has mastered every shadow on the stage, and numerous techies backstage have worked for weeks to prepare sound cues and sets masterfully. Though actors are important, this performance would be impossible without the talent behind the scenes.

Despite their enjoyable performances, the Russians ultimately are the downfall of Teyve and his family. After two of his remaining daughters (Hodel, played by senior Jessica Johnson, and Chava, played by junior Shannon Linch) are both married in increasingly non-traditional ways, Tevye is pushed past the breaking point, disowning Chava after she elopes with one of the Russians (Fyedka, played by Myers).

By this point, Hodel already has left Anatevka to be with her partner, communist revolutionary Perchik (junior Sean Thornton), and Tzetiel has made a home with Motel. Though his daughters are married, and Tevye is nearly through with his balancing act, fate has one more twist in store for his village, courtesy of eviction by the Russian police.

Even as he departs the country forever, Tevye still refuses to speak to his disowned daughter -- but he allows his traditional sensibilities to be compromised one final time as his family prepares to leave.

The spring high school musical reaches a level of maturity that one doesn't usually expect from a cast whose oldest members are barely 18. Skilled direction, sound acting and beautiful tech pave the way to a thoroughly enjoyable performance, lending strength to Thornton's decision to stage her most rigorous show to date.

Mazel tov, RHS Drama. Your marriage to this performance is anything but arranged.

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