Time Out, on Stage of All Places, for Modesty
Written by Ari L. Noonan
Monday, 21 August 2006
Modesty is the most rarely displayed moral value in these exhibitionist times. My wife and I caught a fast-moving glimpse of modesty at the end of yesterday afternoon, following the final performance of “Fiddler on the Roof” by the extraordinary Children’s Civic Light Opera cast at Hamilton High School. At the conclusion, the anxious, proud, thoroughly involved audience was asked to remain seated, no cinch to happen given the heat of their enthusiasm. Flowers and tributes would be distributed to the sung and publicly unsung. This is a sacred tradition for stage productions not to mention summer camps. After watching them — and their personalities — in rehearsal and now in production, I can say without fear of rebuttal that these 40 students between the ages of 7 and 17 represent the closest you can come to perfect children without converting them into mindless puppets.
They look, they act and they sound exceedingly well trained as ladies and gentlemen. The commendable breeding in their homes has transferred seamlessly to the demanding stage that Diane Feldman, founder of the Children’s Civic Light Opera, helpfully has provided. You know the children learned and were loved at home because parents participate almost as prominently as the kids in what Ms. Feldman calls “an educational musical theatre program.” Joining this cast is not for the bashful of spirit. Nor is it for anyone who is one teardrop unsure of himself. This is for the charmingly bold young men and women who breathlessly exude the supremacy of confidence that is inbred in the uncommonly talented among us.
Performing with the Children’s Civic Light Opera is like playing on a baseball team where everyone else is named Clemente. The air is thin at this height. Exposure to it would cause a doubter to snap. Too late to turn back, you are consorting, publicly, with the cream of your field. The Children’s Civic Light Opera is in its 18th season, and tackling “Fiddler” as this summer’s showcase is very difficult, as many actors will attest. Fiddler has played Broadway four times in the past 40 years, and so the broadest outlines of the story probably are familiar. In 1905 in Czarist Russia, anti-Semitism was rife, as Tevye the dairyman and Golde his wife demonstrate even though they live, typically for poor Jews, in a shtetl, a tiny Jewish settlement remote from the seats of power. Like terrorists today, the Czar’s stone cold fingers touched all Jewish lives, as the Jewish author Sholeim Aleichem noted when he wrote the story a century ago. By 5:30 yesterday afternoon, the Czar had ordered Tevye, Golde, the last two of their unmarried daughters and all other Jews in the shtetl of Anatevka to leave. Go anywhere. The family chose America.
From Darkness to Light
Spunky but badly overpowered, the family glumly left the dimming stage, Tevye wearily pulling the family’s pathetic belongings in a cart. Like stairsteps, the climactic applause inside Hami High built. And now it was reward time. The lights went up, and the cast returned strategically for bows. The “A” personalities took charge, and numerous off-stagers were honored. They started with the queen, Ms. Feldman, whom some of us not related to her affectionately call Mother. She has one title for each of her names — Director, Musical Director, Producer. When Mother hit the stage, it was like plugging in a 20,000-watt chandelier. Her personality suggests that, starting with 76 Trombones, she could stage “The Music Man” and play every role herself, simultaneously. The golden glow from the sparks she sets off are reflected in the brilliant acting of the children. Hopefully, we will not miss a name. Roberto Pasquariello, Melissa Shulman, Maddie Ames, Codie Dicus, Cody Metzger,Sarah Lipshy, Hana McLaughlin, Talia McLaughlin, Sean Eads, Sarah Cowan, Sergio Pasquariello, Jameson Hargear, Danielle Feuer, Veronica Rodriguez, Benina Stern, Liam McKenzie, Rosie Aboody, Alexi Rosenfeld, Max Light-Pachecho, Mimi Erlick, Alison Catlin, Alexandra Ring, Bryan Kalbrosky, Niki Sagar, Kira Hughes, Zori Budevska, Arielle Singer, Sabrina Lieberman, Emily Kalbrosky, Garrison Hall, Annie Math, Zahava Jaffe, Andrea Nevil, Mollie Bloom, Ingrid Eskland-Adetuyi, Cori McElwain and Alyce Tawil.
A Stage Teacher’s Role
On stage, as every director for the last hundred years will agree, egos are more fragile than any to be found in a school’s classrooms. The Children’s Civic Light Opera rotated the casts this past weekend for the multiple performances in the Norman J. Pattiz Auditorium. Massaging the tender personalities and sensitive egos of knowingly talented students — whose age difference spans 10 years — sounds more like a job for Moses than a young woman named Diane. The most meaningful tribute may be that the lovingly woven human skills of the director and her actors seduced me in the first scenes and convinced me they were seasoned adult Broadway performers. You will have to leave the planet to find more impressive performances than we saw yesterday, especially from Tevye, Golde and Hodel. But the sum of the performances is perspirational testimony to the parents who implanted these values, the director who knew precisely how to coax the right amount of talent to the surface, without excess, and the arresting maturity of the students themselves. For all of the seriousness of this career-encouraging enterprise, the students have fun. That is a compliment to their adult leaders who have managed to convey the importance of striking an elusive emotional balance.
The Bow That Never Happened
My favorite memory came during the tribute portion, by which time surely some people were growing hungry and a little restless. Like thousands of summer campers we have known, many of the actors melted into unapologetic tears with the stark realization that summer was over, and so was the Children’s Civic Light Opera season. Repeats were unavailable. The enormous range of emotions they had spent could only repose in their memories. As designed by Sholeim Aleichem many years ago, Tevye, as the father figure, was the star of the show. Just as with Mother, Roberto Pietro Pasquariello would unhesitatingly light up the performing heavens whether he was alone on stage or with 600 other actors. A jazz aficionado, he is leaving momentarily for Loyola University, New Orleans, where he will study jazz and classical voice. Understandably, many actors wanted to get into the act at the end of the afternoon, thanking everyone who had been special to them. Mr. Pasquariello, however, stood off to the side. The linchpin for the play, he never said a word after the curtain went down and rose again. Unobtrusively, his hands clasped silently, in the tradition of the paternal Tevye, Mr. Pasquariello modestly watched the others cavort. Less often is said to be more. After hours of dancing, singing, exhorting and cavorting, Mr. Pasquariello unobtrusively offered a glimpse of modesty, a lesson for all who follow.
To learn more about the Children’s Civic Light Opera’s workshops and classes: www.cclo.org or call 310.478.5886.
©2006 The Front Page. All rights reserved.
All the Boys and Girls Looked Jewish
Written by Ari L. Noonan
Thursday, 03 August 2006
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For an hour and a half this morning while watching the utterly brilliant cast of the Children’s Civic Light Opera rehearse, I thought I had fallen asleep and the whole world had become Jewish. Every single one of the 40 boys and girls I watched sweeping through their paces for the production of “Fiddler on the Roof” two weekends from now looked Jewish. Some are. Some are not. But they had me convinced. They looked so authentically Jewish that I will be disappointed if I do not see them in my synagogue on Saturday morning.
Going Home to Anatevka
As they cheerfully danced, forcefully sang and animatedly performed the rituals of daily Jewish life 125 years ago in the village of Anatevka, I was transported back to the bitter days of Czarist Russia. Quietly, I will acknowledge the talented, bushy-haired young man who was Tevya, the key player, may not have been Jewish. His first name is Roberto. I stopped counting the letters in his surname (Pasqueriello) when I reached 20. He was really good, absolutely convincing, which is an actor’s main mission. Sitting beside Steve Frye of the Culver City News, my learned teacher on all matters entertainment, I nudged him a couple of times and said, “See, just like my wedding.” In the classic barn-like stage setting that is the AmVets Post #2 building behind the Vets Auditorium, the boys and girls morphed into 19th century Russian Jews.
She Who Must Be Obeyed
Under the demanding but loving tutelage of a lady we may call Mother — who otherwise is Diane Feldman, the founder and Artistic Director — magic was worked. The cast comes in so many different sizes that I don’t imagine any two of them could fit into a common sized olive drab tee-shirt that each one was wearing. This is where the magic of Mother, Ms. Feldman, plays a crucial role. Even though we were only a few feet off Culver Boulevard and Mr. Frye was perched beside me, I felt as if I were in Czarist Russia. Even though every one of the boys and girls was a different height, from pretty short to pretty tall, they looked uniformly like Russian Jews to me. Their ages range from 7 to 17, and as it goes in summer theater, most of them were girls. Whatever role they were assigned, that was who I believed they were. Mother, amazingly, seemed to have four or five hands as she pounded out the familiar, lilting melodies of “Fiddler” on a piano that could not be heard more than two blocks away, directed individual actions, eyed the entire rehearsal area at a glance, correcting several minor flaws, all while subtly applauding their hard work. But my favorite moments were admiring the nimble, gliding, curling, pretzeling movements of the young choreographer Teresa White. The lithe Ms. White, in her first summer with the student company, seemed to be in two places on the floor simultaneously. With velvetized feet and a soothing but sturdy voice, she strokingly educated children of all ages. Ms. White demonstrated how they should carve their own personal spaces in the air while relating a story to the audience by the ways they contort their bodies.
Dipping into Their Background
The Children’s Civic Light Opera, a summertime company for Westside students that is in its 19th season, is classy enough to play Broadway, not off-Broadway. The talent, the energy, the genuine spirit of the children illuminate the barn of a room. They are polished to such a lofty degree that a guy could shave in the glow they throw off. They have fun, too. Today was Media Day, another high gloss production, spearheaded by parent volunteer Chris Nevil who knows how to stage a sophisticated party. A circular table in the entryway was crowded with professionally designed credentials for media people. Each of us was given a bulging, technicolor press packet, in the olive drab color scheme, containing pages of useful information. It wasn’t timed this way on purpose, but the Children’s Civic Light Opera introduction of “Fiddler on the Roof” to the greater world of the Westside came on the mournful Jewish holiday of Tisha B’av, the Ninth Day of the Month of Av. The major catastrophes of Jewish history are poignantly recalled through prayers and underscored by a 25-hour fast. For those of us who are fasting until 8:37 this evening, the meaning of “Fiddler” was emotionally enhanced by the intersection of Tisha B’av, “Fiddler on the Roof,” and the aching heartbreak of the Middle East War. My wife and I have spoken this week of going to Israel to provide assistance and support to the Jewish people. The power of Ms. Feldman’s splendid cast is so strong and so pervasive that I wanted to dash out of the AmVets building, take Diane by the arm and fly off to Tel Aviv this afternoon.
Playing before an audience of truly activist, involved, beaming parents, two women from the Museum of Tolerance and the media, Mother stepped out of character for a moment to make an announcement. She invited the audience to gather in the center of the rehearsal stage while the performers encircled us. Solemnly, they closed their eyes and sang to us, echoingly, movingly. I was so shaken I don’t remember what the song was, just that it was royally beautiful. What the adults surrounding the Children’s Civic Light Opera are doing needs to be known. Through Keith Jeffreys, Vice Commander of the AmVets Post and producer-artistic director of Los Angeles Area Veterans’ Artists Alliance, the cast yesterday performed for the needful, often forgotten men and women at the Veterans Administration Nursing Home. V.A. patients such as Alice Keikley, Matthews Rupnick and Robert Tottle thanked the ensemble for remembering them when others do not.
The relationship between the Children’s Civic Light Opera and the Museum of Tolerance, led by Rabbi Marvin Hier, is developing this summer. Both groups say they hold the same communal goals in common. The student cast and the scores of participating adults associated with the Children’s Civic Light Opera deserve your support. Remember their stagings, starting a week from Sunday. They are the cream of our future.
©2006 The Front Page. All rights reserved.