Charlotte Christian students take on a classic in ‘Fiddler’

It’s a new chapter for Charlotte Christian School musical theater.

Charlotte Christian upper school theater students will present “Fiddler on the Roof” on April 10 to 12, Thursday to Saturday, at 7 p.m. each night. The show will be the first upper school musical produced by new Charlotte Christian theater directors, Conrad and Tiffany Bear. (Above, from left) Will McLain, Emma VanDeVelde, Caroline Chambers and Graham Baker.

Charlotte Christian upper school theater students will present “Fiddler on the Roof” on April 10 to 12, Thursday to Saturday, at 7 p.m. each night. The show will be the first upper school musical produced by new Charlotte Christian theater directors, Conrad and Tiffany Bear. (Above, from left) Will McLain, Emma VanDeVelde, Caroline Chambers and Graham Baker.

The students are still driven, the talent is still ripe, but the leadership has changed, bringing in a dynamic duo in husband and wife Conrad and Tiffany Bear to lead the way in the school’s middle and upper school choral and theater programs.

Now, the two are prepping and working with students to bring to stage their first full-fledge musical theater for upper school with the classic musical “Fiddler on the Roof.” The show will run April 10 to 12, Thursday to Saturday, at 7 p.m. each night in the school’s Lamb/Johnson Gymnasium. Reserved tickets cost $10 and general admission tickets cost $7 each. Tickets are available at the door or at www.charlottechristian.com/boxoffice for advance purchase.

Landing two full-time jobs working side-by-side in Charlotte wasn’t exactly the plan the Bears had in mind. But when God speaks, you respond, Tiffany Bear said about their leap of faith to uproot their grounded lives in the Northeast. The two had been teaching and working professionally on stage and screen developing their own acting careers.

“We really did not have any intention of going back to full-time teaching,” Tiffany Bear said. But after a whirlwind of events that landed the two in Charlotte at an interview for two teaching positions at Charlotte Christian, their focus and plans quickly changed. “We came down… and through that time, we thought ‘This seems like it might be a really great place to be.’”

When it came time to brainstorm and pick their first upper school production, the Bears wanted to make sure to pick a show that not only fit current students in the theater program, but also a show to highlight students’ strengths. They also wanted to find a musical that could pull out some of their own strengths in terms of directing and teaching, all while ensuring their pick would be a show the community would enjoy.

“We wanted to pick something that had significance – something that teaches and entertains, and we wanted to start with something a little more classic,” Tiffany Bear said, adding she and her husband both have significant training in opera and classical music. “From a musical perspective, we wanted to really build into that classical technique. We wanted to set some foundations for some solid training. ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ is a very classical style, which can be a challenge.”

The musical is set in the village of Anatevka, Russia, where Tevye, a poor dairyman, tries to instill in his five daughters the traditions of his tight-knit Jewish community during the time of changing social ways and growing anti-Semitism of Czarist Russia. The play showcases humor, warmth and honesty while cutting barriers in race, class, nationality and religion, according to a news release.

Junior Emma VanDeVelde, who will play the role of Hodel, one of the five daughters in the show, said this year’s role is particularly challenging for her as it differs from the supporting characters she’s played in the past. Emma won best supporting actress at Charlotte’s inaugural Blumey Awards, a high school theater competition sponsored by Blumenthal Performing Arts, for her role as a freshman in 2011-12 in the school’s production of West Side Story, and last year won the Excellence in Acting award at the North Carolina Theater Competition for her role in ‘AIDA.’

“For me, my character is sort of different. I usually play the secondary role, which is a typically more funny kind of side-kick character,” Emma said. “This role has been kind of different because she can’t hide behind her humor. It’s been a change, but I think it was something that I needed. I’m having a good time with it.”

Overall, the cast of “Fiddler on the Roof” includes close to 30 students, in addition to several students working backstage, Tiffany Bear said.

It’s the first chance for junior Derek Wood, a member of Charlotte Christian’s football team who that back-to-back NCISAA state championships in 2012 and 2013, to take the stage. He’ll be playing the role of Mendel, a large-supporting role for a first-time actor, Bear said.

“I was doing all athletics stuff all the time, but getting into theater was apparently a very underdeveloped portion of my talent,” Derrick laughed. “It was just something I hadn’t done before. It was about developing this new skill set while working with all of these really fun and talented people.”

For the students, “Fiddler on the Roof” differs from last year’s production of “Oklahoma!” Developing the Yiddish accents and learning new styles of music has been a challenge, but it’s one they’ve greatly accepted along with having new directors.

New directors were a shock, junior Haley Putnam said, but also a refreshing change and opportunity to learn something new. Haley has been participating in Charlotte Christian’s theater programs since lower school, she said. She’s won several accolades over the years including Excellence in Acting at both last fall’s NCTC state and regional competitions. She’ll be playing the role of Yenta in “Fiddler on the Roof.”

“I think it’s been a great experience” working under new directors, Haley said. “It’s actually been a very smooth transition. With “Fiddler on the Roof,” it’s been a new dynamic, but it’s been so nice working with new and different people. The show itself is just about changing traditions.”

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