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Journey with cast of 54 in 'Fiddler on the Roof Jr.'

For those who love groundbreaking musicals, complete with hummable, familiar tunes and a storyline revolving around love, tradition and taking a step into the unknown, Oregon City Children’s Theatre founder Michelle Leigh has just the ticket.

by: PHOTO BY MICHELLE LEIGH - Three of Tevye's daughters are portrayed by, from left, Alexis Davis, as Chava, Melanie Erickson, as Hodel, and Leah Kemeny, as Tzeitel.She is directing the upcoming production “Fiddler on the Roof Jr.,” complete with a cast of 54, ranging in age from 5 to 73. And as for that “junior” designation, Leigh said that the musical, opening Thursday, April 10, still contains the major plotline, and all the songs audiences love.

“Music Theatre International has taken a lot of Broadway shows and made those scripts shorter and more accessible for schools and small theater companies, and there are lower royalty rates,” she said.

‘Phenomenal cast’

by: PHOTO BY MICHELLE LEIGH - Alec Martinez, as Tevye, shares a quiet moment with his wife, Golde, played by Lacy Redmond.OCCT has an open-casting process, Leigh said, and that means she will find a place for anyone who walks through the door for auditions. In the case of ‘Fiddler,” the perfect combination of people came together.

“I am blessed with a phenomenal cast and an amazing show. We started by learning ‘Tradition,’ and there was commitment on that stage from Day One, and that has continued with excitement and drive,” she said.

“Fiddler on the Roof,” set in Czarist Russia in 1905, opened on Broadway in 1964 and was nominated for 10 Tony awards, winning nine of them.

The story centers around Tevye, who has five daughters of marriageable age; he attempts to maintain the strong Jewish religious traditions of his family, while at the same time dealing with outside events that are out of his control.

At the heart of those events is the fact that the Jews in Tevye’s village are being forcibly evicted from their homes.

Leigh said she walked the cast through one of the centerpieces of the show, the traditional Jewish wedding.

“We talked about why they drink out of a cup; why the ceremony is conducted under a canopy. It took three hours to stage the wedding, while I explained what was going on.”

‘Jaw-dropping moment’

One of the most famous scenes in the musical is a dance number featuring five actors performing “complicated and intricate” choreography with real bottles balanced on their heads.

“I put out the challenge to the kids — if they wanted to be bottle dancers they had to watch a video of the dance, and they had to walk around at home with a bottle balanced on their heads. There are no gimmicks,” Leigh said.

Adding that she purchased “plenty of bottles” to practice with, Leigh noted that the five dancers, three under the age of 15 and one almost 20, will provide the show with a genuine “mind-blowing, jaw-dropping moment.”

As for the pivotal role of Tevye, Leigh noted that Rex Putnam High School senior Alec Martinez caught her eye five years ago when he auditioned for an OCCT show.

“When I first met him, he was a shy boy with a phenomenal voice; three years later, something snapped and he became an unstoppable personality on stage.”

Several years ago, Martinez told Leigh that it was his dream to play Tevye, and she told him his turn would come.

“A lot of kids will grow and thrive, and I want to allow them that final moment,” Leigh said.

Love stories

As she prepares to open her 22nd musical with OCCT, Leigh said that she is excited to get this piece on stage and out to an audience.

“We have a beautiful set, designed by a grandparent who is in the show, along with his wife, daughter and granddaughter. We have a sunrise, and a sunset, and the choreography is impressive. All the kids and adults have pulled together.”

There have been some teachable moments on stage, Leigh said, especially with the love stories of the three oldest daughters.

“One of the younger kids was just blown away by the idea of arranged marriages; and then we see that Tevye and his wife, whose marriage was arranged, have truly grown to love each other,” she said.

“There is one moment in the play when everyone is aware of a sense of powerful love, of innocent love. Every young girl in the room went ‘ooh.’”

Leigh originally founded OCCT at her daughter’s request about 10 years ago. Her daughter graduated from OCHS last June, but Leigh is still up for the challenge of running the theater group.

“I’m not done; theater is my passion. This exists because I make it exist. I am so thankful that I have been allowed to produce 22 shows, with enough community and school district support,” she said.

Originally started as a children’s theater group, several years ago Leigh encouraged adults to audition, and their stories bring tears to her eyes.

“This has made a huge difference to adults, who sometimes don’t get to live out their passion. They may have a 9-to-5 job, but that is not their outlet. With OCCT, the old spark is back,” she said.

“That is exactly the reason I do this; for the changes in kids and families and for the opportunity for anybody who walks through the door to be a part of this.”

People should come to see the show, Leigh said, because “both visually and emotionally it is an amazing show. I encourage families to come as a family.”

She said that with her staging of “Fiddler,” audience members will not just sit back and watch, but will feel like they are part of the wedding scene and the tradition.

Leigh added, “Come and take a journey with us. At the end of the show, Tevye, his family and villagers are taking a step forward toward hope, but still the unknown. They are taking a step toward something that is not black and white, but they keep stepping, and keep hoping.”

Raise the roof

What: Oregon City Children’s Theatre presents “Fiddler on the Roof Jr.”

When: 7 p.m. April 10 and continuing at 7 p.m. April 11, 12, 17 and 18, and at 1 p.m. April 19

Where: Oregon City High School's Jackson Street Theatre, 1306 12th St.

Tickets: $7 for adults; $5 for seniors and children 12 and under. General admission tickets will be sold at the box office prior to each performance. The box office opens one hour before the show, and doors open 30 minutes prior.

Website: For more information, visit occtheatre.org.

Coming up: Auditions for "Stuart Little" are from 5 to 8 p.m. June 5. For information, visit the website. Oregon City Children’s Theatre is a nonprofit organization committed to providing the opportunity of performing and learning stagecraft to any child who expresses the desire to learn it. The theater is organized and run primarily by volunteer parents, family and friends. What makes the program unique is that all aspects of the show, both onstage and off, are handled completely by the children.



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