Gerrard Berman kids raise the roof
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Gerrard Berman kids raise the roof

Performance showcases 'Fiddler' and other theater classics

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Gerrard Berman cowpokes perform songs from “Oklahoma.” photos by Mark Siegel

As the rain drummed on the roof of the YM-YWHA of North Jersey in Wayne last Tuesday night, more than 95 students and parents of the Gerrard Berman Day School Solomon Schechter presented “How the Fiddler Got On the Roof” to a packed house. The play was written by fifth- through eighth-graders under the direction of their teachers.

Rachel Greenwald, one of the directors of the play and a member of the triumvirate responsible for it, told The Jewish Standard, “Our play is an imaginative history of theater from the time of the caveman to modern Broadway.”

Greenwald teaches first and second grade at GBDS, and her partners in Pomegranate Productions are Dassi Rosenkrantz-Cabo, the school’s music teacher, and Beth Paley, choreographer, whose children graduated from the school last year. Greenwald says Paley loves the work so much, she still comes to school. This is the trio’s sixth production at GBDS. “The playwrights, however,” said Greenwald, “are the students.”

The production was narrated by Sholom Aleichem’s Tevye, played by Jeremy Fine, a seventh-grader from Fair Lawn. When asked how his role affected him, he said, “This play made me realize that acting and the real world are almost the same. I learned Shakespeare was right – ‘All the world’s a stage.’ But I also got something out of it for me: Tevye is a fellow who is connected to God. When I first came to this school in fifth grade, I didn’t feel connected, but now I understand Tevye because I feel connected to God and do tefillah every morning, reinforcing that connection.”

Rabbi Ellen Bernhardt, GBDS principal, who overheard Jeremy’s comment to the Standard, said it made her cry. She added, “The plays allow our kids to shine, and sometimes the metamorphosis in some of them is mind-boggling. The Pomegranate producers come up with these ideas year after year. They are creative geniuses who always give me a cameo role. Two years ago, I was in a mystery they produced about Shakespeare. This year, I came [onstage] and asked Tevye where Shakespeare was, and he said, ‘Rabbi, don’t you remember we did Shakespeare two years ago?’ They always try to make me look silly, but I don’t mind. The amount of history everyone learns from this process is enormous and can even be life-changing for some of these children. They will always remember what they saw in the storytelling of the evolution of drama.”

Said Greenwald, “There is a serious side, too. This is a small school, and teachers know what each child’s strengths are. We realized that many of the children, often shy in the classroom, come to life on the stage, and so we build our plays around the students…. We tailor roles to their personalities. In rehearsals, some students improvised, and we added their ad-libs, because they worked. We want to give wallflowers the chance to become stars.

“This year’s theme was Dassi’s idea,” she continued, “and we created a timeline for the history of theater, then extrapolated scenes. And we had fun. Our skit about the Wise Men of Chelm, ‘What a Soup!’ is performed by second-, third-, and fourth-graders. Gittel, the cook, played by Noa Fuchs, was making soup for the sickly rabbi, and the wise men told her it needed a kick, so she added a boot to the pot. Then they told her it needed punch, so she added a boxing glove. When it needed color, she added paint, and for the bad smell, she added Febreeze. Finally the wise men said it was good, but too cold, so Gittel added her hat and her scarf. Needless to say, it cured the rabbi, and Gittel told the audience that if they want the recipe, they should order the day school’s newly published cookbook, B’ti Avon, from the school office.”

The scenery and sets were built by art teacher Shelley Jaffe, assisted by students and parents. All the music was performed by Rosenkrantz-Cabo and her students.

The Asian skit was inspired by Kabuki and Noh theaters of the Orient and included an enormous two-headed dragon created by student Jeremy Mandel and his father, Pryce. According to audience members, that dragon, operated by Jeremy and Lee Keinan, was fit for a Broadway show. Also included were Egyptian dances; a bacchanal; a Greek tragedy; and commedia dell’arte from Italy. There were minstrels, who had rehearsed in the school lobby for months, followed by a take-off on Moliere, the French satirist.

Parents and teachers played “The Berman Burlesque,” singing old-time standards like “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” and “By the Light of the Silvery Moon.” The piano man was parent Andrew Mester, who played “The Entertainer.” Nikki Bailowitz-Marino’s handmade puppets performed “Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf” – a wolf who prefers Crest white strips for his great big teeth. There was a mime, a mind-reading act, and even some hula-hoopers. Three songs from the musical “Oklahoma” were sung by first-, second-, and third-graders in full cowboy regalia.

Said Greenwald, “Every year the school produces three full shows: a talent show for Chanukah, the school production, and an end-of-year Zimria,” a songfest, “in June. This June the theme is country music, so Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson had better watch out!” “How The Fiddler Got on The Roof” was professionally recorded on DVD and is available from the school office. For information, call (201) 337-1111.

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