HILLSBOROUGH: ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ hits school stage Friday night

Students pay homage to ‘tradition’

By Gene Robbins, Managing Editor
   ”Tradition” is the opening number in “Fiddler on the Roof,” the classic Broadway show that will be reprised by Hillsborough High School Theatre on the next two weekends.
   And “tradition” is the theme of the theatrical season at the high school, a common thread that ties together the four productions of the school year.
   ”Fiddler” is the story of a poor town of Jewish families in czarist Russia in 1905 who survive — and slowly changing — to the cultural and religious practices of generations before them. It was brought to life on Broadway in a 1964 show that laced with tunes that linger in your head and make you hum as you leave the theater.
   In addition to the opening “Tradition,” classics include “Sunrise, Sunset,” “If I Were a Rich Man,” and “Matchmaker, Matchmaker.”
   Director BJ Solomon said he noticed that students who, once they leave high school for college, want to deny their ethnicity and culture and become like everyone else.
   ”It’s important to take pride in what makes differences in cultures,” said Mr. Solomon.
   Productions are also learning experiences for the students, who were tasked to think back on things that their own families do every day or special season, something they set aside and enjoy and look forward to.
   That’s “tradition.”
   Students were challenged to go back and research their own family genealogies and make posters picturing the growth of their family tree.
   Mr. Solomon’s musicals also invoke special theatrical magic with props and stage sets, and this year is no different. He said he’s gone back to the works of Russian modernist painter Marc Chagall, whose “The Green Violinist” was the basis for the musical. The theater’s Facebook page features a different Chagall print every day.
   The students use black lights and puppets to elicit the “dream sequence” in which father Tevye convinces his wife to break tradition in bowing to love over the yente in choosing a husband for their eldest daughter.
   The production has spent a little bit more to rent more realistically looking beards for boys whose own hirsute efforts couldn’t make the grade.
   Alex Luckenbaugh stars as Tevye, the physically beaten but spiritually robust farmer who has five daughters to marry off. He’s been in “Beauty and the Beast” and “Phantom of the Opera” in recent years.
   Co-starring as Tevye’s wife, Golde, is Becky Gumpel, another senior who is on her way to performing in 14 of the 16 school productions in her four years in school. As one of three Jewish students cast in the play, she said she felt she could relate little easier to the prejudices and oppressions felt by the overworked, underfed townsfolk of Anatevka.
   The Hillsborough cast has battled the challenges of making a well-known favorite different for a sophisticated audience who likely has seen the show many times. Eight snow days that canceled school battered Mr. Solomon’s modus operandi of rehearsing the show in scene order. Students rehearse six days a week, so those days just couldn’t be made up, Mr. Solomon said.
   ”Fiddler on the Roof” runs the next two weekends: at 7 p.m. on March 7, 8, 14 and 15 and at 1 p.m. on Sundays, March 9 and 15, in the auditorium of the high school, 466 Raider Blvd. Admission is $12 for reserved seating. Buy at www.HHSTheatre.org and at the door. For information, call 908-431-6600, ext. 2099.