As the enthusiastic opening number "Tradition" rang through Westfield High School's auditorium, the audience was immediately transported to 1905 Russia and the rural village of Anatevka for an extraordinary production of "Fiddler on the Roof."
And for the rest of the show, Westfield's talented cast kept the crowd entranced with the popular musical's story, written by Joseph Stein and based on short stories by Sholom Aleichem.
"Fiddler on the Roof," which originally opened on Broadway in 1964 with music by Jerry Bock and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, follows the fortunes of Tevye (Barry Armbruster), a common dairyman, and his family as they are shaken by the trials of living in a small Jewish village in an ever-changing world at the dawn of Russian revolution.
Armbruster owned the stage as Tevye, with effortlessly perfect pitch and unbelievably realistic commitment to character, a performance that won him best actor in a musical at the Cappies gala Sunday. Whether his Tevye was arguing with his stubborn wife, attempting to understand his teenage daughters or defending the honor of his village, Armbruster delivered a performance that expertly balanced comic timing and moving emotion.
Carolyn Agan, who played Tevye's second daughter, Hodel, stood out as another marvelous vocalist in the production. She demonstrated excellent control as her rich soprano rang true during "Far From the Home I Love."
Ashley Dillard and Michelle Polera, as Hodel's sisters Tzeitel and Chava, harmonized with Agan in a strong performance of "Matchmaker, Matchmaker," which also allowed the three girls to exhibit their chemistry with one another.
The large cast allowed all the actors a chance to shine, including a memorable performance by Branson Reese as a rabbi whose few one-liners acted as much-needed comic relief, and Michelle Murgia, who capably portrayed the overbearing, enthusiastic town matchmaker, Yente.
Although cast members sometimes lost or altered their Russian accents, their commitment to character was evident. And the cast performed excellently as an ensemble, booming with vigor in numbers like "L'Chaim!" ("To Life!") and vocalizing believably in somber numbers like "Anatevka."
Technically, the show ran seamlessly, an accomplishment for any high school stage crew. The set, built beautifully to portray both the realistic town and the interior of Tevye's home, was aesthetically appealing and practical, allowing the actors to move easily across it.
Occasionally the volume was too low in musical numbers, but the cast generally projected well, with clear diction.
A few small setbacks, however, did not detract from the Westfield players' obvious energy and spirit, allowing their production of "Fiddler on the Roof" to truly be, as one character sings, a "wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles."
Chantilly High School
Loosen your tie, kick off your shoes and step out of 21st-century America and into the town of Anatevka, Russia, 1905. If you don't think you can, trust me: By the end of a performance of "Fiddler on the Roof," you'll be transported.
Perhaps that's why it has been revived on Broadway four times since its original eight-year run opened in 1964. It also spawned an acclaimed movie version in 1971. Written by Joseph Stein, based on stories of Sholom Aleichem, the show contains a memorable score by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick.
Regardless of the musical's popularity and long history, Westfield High School's production of "Fiddler on the Roof" was anything but "same old same old."
With an elegantly painted village set, detailed props and period costumes -- and an in-character fiddler standing on the school's roof as audience members entered -- Westfield High School took this familiar musical and created an early 1900s ambiance so seamless, you couldn't help but feel a part of Tevye's family.
Rooted in cultural and historical fact, "Fiddler on the Roof" tells the fictional tale of Tevye and his struggles as a working-class Jew in Russia during a time of rampant anti-Semitism, when pogroms (organized violent attacks against minority groups) were common and accepted.
Central in the musical is Tevye's relationship with his five daughters, the oldest three of whom openly struggle against the marriage customs and traditions that define Tevye's culture and guide his decisions.
Beyond the production's visual spectacle -- enhanced by dynamic, inventive lighting -- Westfield's show featured a seemingly limitless supply of talented actors and superior vocalists. Particularly in ensemble scenes, the cast's uniform physical movements, complex choreography and clear, in-key vocals left audience members open-mouthed and wrapped tightly in the fabric of the story.
Each actor contributed a sliver of what became a memorably powerful and genuinely satisfying show.
Barry Armbruster supported his lovable characterization of Tevye with his operatic singing voice. Michelle Polera played Tevye's daughter Chava with intense and realistic anguish. And Carolyn Agan sang daughter Hodel's part with a heart-melting voice.
A solid, near-professional production such as Westfield's does justice to the show's broader themes. Confronting timeless issues of the loss of tradition and challenges to cultural identity, "Fiddler on the Roof" reminds us that struggles against intolerance have been fought for generations, and urges us to remember the devastating effects of racial and cultural discrimination.
Robinson Secondary School
Barry Armbruster, as Tevye in "Fiddler on the Roof," won a Cappies award.