The Father Judge High School theater arts club hasn’t produced Fiddler on the Roof since 1976, and director Tom Dignam knows the challenges.
The show requires a large and talented cast, along with an elaborate set.
Still, the performers believe the show is coming along well.
“I’m really excited,” said senior Matt Clark, who plays Perchik and Constable. “At first, I was iffy about something as deep as Fiddler. It can be a risk, but it can be really good. What we have is going to be great. It’s turning out really well.”
Casey Berner, a St. Hubert senior who plays Grandma Tzeitel, is performing in her fourth Judge show.
“It’s really hard to beat Godspell, but we might beat Godspell,” she said of last spring’s musical. “People loved it, but I think this is turning out better.”
There will be six productions of Fiddler, with evening shows on March 16-17 and 23-24 and Sunday matinees on March 18 and 25.
Set in Russia in 1905, Fiddler is the story of Tevye, a poor milkman who attempts to maintain family and Jewish traditions in a changing world. He and his wife, Golde, have five daughters.
The show opened on Broadway in 1964 and won a Tony Award for Best Musical. A 1971 film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture.
Dignam, whose brother John was in Fiddler 36 years ago at Judge, is in his fourth year as director of shows at the high school.
“It’s very difficult in terms of production, but it’s a great show for high school,” he said. “There are a lot of ensemble numbers. You get a lot of people involved. There are a lot of large, female roles. Tevya carries the show, but they spread the wealth.”
The crew is made up of 25 Judge students, including a few who also appear on stage.
“They learn the technical aspect of it, too,” said Dignam, a 1981 Judge graduate. “The crew and cast go hand in hand.”
The cast consists of boys from Father Judge and girls from St. Hubert, Archbishop Ryan, Nazareth Academy and Little Flower.
Megan Guy, a Little Flower senior, plays Golde. Her dad, William, played Tevya when he attended Ryan.
“This is one of my favorite shows. I really like the music and the storyline,” she said.
This is the first time in memory that she and her fellow Little Flower students have had prominent roles in the Judge shows.
“Everyone welcomed us,” she said.
St. Hubert has traditionally supplied most of the female talent for Judge shows, and some of the girls were emotional when an Archdiocese of Philadelphia blue ribbon commission recommended in January that the school close because of declining enrollment and a budget deficit.
The Judge guys and the girls from the other schools shared in their pain.
“It was amazing. Everyone was supportive,” Berner said.
Of course, that drama had a happy ending, as an outpouring of financial commitments helped St. Hubert and four other high schools on the chopping block remain open.
As for Fiddler, Dignam said all of the young people who are involved learn social skills, and those on stage improve their public speaking abilities.
The show wouldn’t be a success without an outstanding lead actor, and Judge senior Shawn Gies ably fills the role of Tevya. He’s experienced, having played Jesus in Godspell and having lead roles in The Desperate Hours, The Rules of Comedy and Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?
“Shawn has sixty percent of the lines, and after the first month, he had all the lines memorized,” Dignam said. “That’s half the battle.”
Gies, who’ll study theater on a partial scholarship to DeSales University, recalls going on a drive with his mom about eight years ago and grabbing a compact disc out of her collection for the ride. It was the Fiddler soundtrack, and young Shawn fell in love with the music.
“This is my favorite show. I know it from top to bottom,” he said. “It’s one of the hardest roles I’ve ever done, but I know the character.”
Gies has seen the show at the Walnut Street Theatre and during a recent national tour in New Brunswick, N.J. He invites the community to come to the Judge production to see the local take on a tight-knit Russian family and community from a century ago.
“There’s a sense of unity in Fiddler,” he said. “Anytime Fiddler comes to town, I see it.” ••
Get up on the roof . . .
Father Judge will offer six productions of Fiddler on the Roof.
Show times are 7 p.m. on March 16-17 and 23-24 and 2 p.m. on March 18 and 25.
The show takes place in the auditorium of the school, at 3301 Solly Ave. Tickets cost $10 in advance or $12 at the door.
For ticket information, call Anne Marie at the school at 215-338-9494, Ext. 1128 or Tom Dignam at 267-808-3671.