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'Fiddler on the Roof' to premiere

Brian Korthals/Daily Globe The cast of "Fiddler on the Roof," which is being presented by the music department of Worthington High School, poses for a photo during dress rehearsal Tuesday night at Memorial Auditorium in Worthington.

WORTHINGTON -- Most 18-year-old high school seniors would find it impossible to manage five daughters, a dairy operation and a bossy wife.

But Michael Benitez is handling the classic and challenging role of Tevye in Worthington High School's production of "Fiddler on the Roof" with grace and aplomb.

"Kids at school joke every day about me being their 'dad,' and it can be a little awkward because, even though they're my friends and peers I have to act superior," confessed the good-natured Benitez. "But I'm getting used to it."

Fine arts activities have been Benitez's main extracurricular outlet during his time at Worthington High School (WHS), where he is a bass in the Concert Choir, Vox and Trojan Express and a percussionist in the concert, marching and jazz bands.

Having been in each of the last two WHS musicals (he was Potiphar in "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" and Harry the Horse in "Guys and Dolls"), Benitez is well acquainted with the process director/choreographer Jon Loy employs in bringing scripts and songs to life on the stage.

"Mr. Loy knows what he's doing," expressed Benitez. "He has every detail in his head, a lot of ideas, and he's great to work with."

Loy reciprocates the praise.

"I think Michael is extraordinary," opined Loy. "I believe audience-goers will really relate to his portrayal of Tevye."

Benitez, the son of Miguel and Azucena Benitez of Worthington, moved to town with his parents from Los Angeles, Calif., just before starting fifth grade.

"My mom didn't want me growing up in a big city, and we've absolutely enjoyed life in Worthington," shared Benitez. "My parents like that I'm involved and taking advantage of what I can."

Benitez learned the bulk of his considerable lines and music for "Fiddler" by studying on his own and listening to the soundtrack on his iPod.

"At first when I was cast, I was really excited but then it hit me that I had all these lines," admitted Benitez. "I was definitely nervous for a while, but my past experience in musicals really helped."

Joining Benitez in his "arranged" stage marriage is sophomore Anna Tims as Golde. Tims turned 16 last Sunday and is pumped to be in the musical and gain her driver's license in the same week.

"The part came pretty naturally to me within the context of the musical," related Tims, whose mother, Donna, was a chorus member in the 1980 WHS production of "Fiddler."

"It wasn't too hard for me to get into this character, and my sister, Rebecca (a ninth- grader and "Fiddler" chorus member), helped me study," explained Tims.

Tims warmed up for her leading role as the authoritative mother Golde with plenty of past stage experience. She was a Dance Academy student for several years, performed in two Missoula Children's Theatre productions, was an Egyptian dancer in last year's musical and is an active WHS musician (violinist, tenor saxophonist and alto in Concert Choir, Bel Canto and Trojan Express).

"'Fiddler' is one of those well-known story lines with a timeless message about overcoming adversity, social stigmas and prejudice," elaborated Loy. "I am very pleased with the entire cast; they are all working hard and are so supportive of one another.

"We have 52 kids in the onstage cast and 20 more working behind the scenes on the technical crew," listed Loy. "I am personally very thankful to all the adults who have served as mentors to the students in making 'Fiddler' happen. We strive to offer the best possible opportunities in this musical theater learning experience, and this show is a truly collaborative effort."

Loy's WHS music department colleagues, choral director Kerry Johnson and orchestra director Melanie Loy, are both involved--Johnson serves as the show's vocal coach and pit conductor, while Melanie Loy's 30 WHS orchestra students will perform the overture and entr'acte.

Johnson shares Loy's enthusiasm.

"The students are doing a fantastic job and are so self-motivated," professed Johnson. "They've taken a lot of leadership, and I feel like the show is really theirs. I'm very proud of them."

Besides the addition of the orchestra to the overall performance, Loy ensures this "Fiddler" production contains several other surprises for audience members.

"There are visual spectacles, especially in 'The Dream,' actual fiddlers on the rooftops, and the wedding scene ("Sunrise, Sunset") is particularly poignant," promised Loy.

Many of the actors say "The Dream" is their No. 1 production number.

Senior Annie Zaske, who solos as Grandmother Tzeitel in "The Dream," cites it as her favorite, as does senior Amy Schutte, who portrays Tzeitel, Tevye and Golde's eldest daughter.

"It's fun to be the crazy dead grandma," laughed Zaske, a WHS musical veteran of both stage and technical crews. "Probably my other favorite parts about musicals are the inside jokes that get passed around and the camaraderie that builds among the cast and crew."

Schutte, likewise, dates her musical experience to a chorus part in "Oklahoma" as a freshman.

"Having been a chorus member for three years, I can appreciate so much more what they do and how much they complement the whole show," observed Schutte. "Being in the chorus helped me learn to feel comfortable on the stage, and taking on the role of an older sister is very natural to me, as I am an older sister in real life."

Loy expresses gratitude to his two faithful senior production assistants, Jennifer Froderman and Katie Fleming, and also to Margaret Hurlbut Vosburgh and Ron Vogel of Memorial Auditorium.

"They are terrific to work with, and District 518 is so lucky to have such a venue to perform in, as we don't have our own performing arts auditorium," noted Loy.

"The kids have put in countless hours on this production, and even with the challenges of weather and competing activities, they've put together a tremendous show in just over a month, and that's pretty remarkable," added Loy.

Assured Zaske, "It's going to be awesome."

"Fiddler on the Roof" is presented through an exclusive arrangement with Music Theatre International of New York. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday at Worthington's Memorial Auditorium, 714 13th St. General admission tickets are available at the door beginning at 7 p.m. nightly: District 518 activity passes are also honored.