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Sierra Repertory Theatre opened its 30th anniversary season Feb. 7 with a favorite: Fiddler on the Roof, a warm, musical portrait of Tevye, a poor Russian peasant with five daughters, struggling to keep faith and tradition in a changing world.

The show, which runs until April 5 at the East Sonora venue, features two Turlock actors: Aleq Bateman and his sister, Leah Bateman, who are homeschooled through the Connecting Waters Charter School, which has an tutoring center in Ceres where they study.

Fiddler on the Roof has been a staple of American musical theater since it first opened on Broadway in 1964. It remains one of the most frequently performed musicals ever, with more than half a dozen Broadway and London revivals and national tours. Several songs from the play are "household" tunes, including "Matchmaker, Matchmaker," and "If I Were a Rich Man."

The beloved musical offers an unforgettable blend of warmth, humor and heartache. It takes place in 1905 in a little Russian village of Anatevka, where a community of poor Jewish families count their blessings and hold tightly to customs of faith and family to keep their balance in a dangerous world.

Leah Bateman,13, plays Shprintze, a younger daughter of Tevya. Leah was the star of SRT's "Miracle Worker" in 2008 and the one who stole the show in White Christmas in 2007. Hers is a much smaller role in Fiddler.

Her brother Aleq Bateman, 17, plays the fiddler whose bittersweet violin strains are a prelude to Tevye - a wry, big-hearted dairyman scrambling to support his wife and five daughters - talking to God about his sorrows.

The star of the show is Jimmy Ferraro who plays Tevye. A New Yorker now based in Colorado, Ferraro has made Fiddler on the Roof the center of his career, playing various roles in the show more than 2,000 times on Broadway, in national tours and regional theater productions from coast to coast. He is supported by SRT favorite Becky Saunders as wife Golde.

Director/Choreographer Scott Viets called the show a beautiful story which is "much deeper than most musicals - the characters are so richly drawn, and we have the challenge of portraying an actual period in time. That appeals to me - to present these real people, their struggles, their traditions and celebrations."

Jonelle Bateman said her children are thoroughly enjoying the experience. Initially they spent six days a week rehearsing eight hours a day.

"You can't help but develop bonds with other cast members. They've really had a good time," said Jonelle.

Fiddler is Aleq's first professional theater role but has sung at Townsend Opera Players ensembles.

"He is an excellent actor," she said. "There's not a lot of opportunity in the role that he has to act. There's some non-verbal communication between him and Tevye but you have to be watching. He plays a number of roles in this but unless you're actually looking for him you don't know."

Toward the end of the musical, Leah and her other stage sister are being set up with suitors, one being Aleq. It's a humorous spin for those who follow the Batemans. Even mom enjoys it as one of her favorite parts even though the kids find it awkward.

Leah finds herself at an awkward stage in acting because of her age. "It's sort of too big for little and too little for big," said Jonelle. She just finished Aladdin with Yes Company and recently was selected from thousands for the final call back list for Jane Banks in Disney's Mary Poppins on Broadway starring Gavin Lee and Ashley Brown. The tour started in January and when it reaches California Leah may get the part "if she doesn't get too tall."

Mom thinks Leah is ready for a life on stage. "I think that she was made for it. I think that's the way God made her. That is her strong point. She can act, she can sing. She takes dance. She has a tremendously nature bent in that direction."

The story is staged in a modernist set, after the style of European artist Marc Chagall. Chagall, an exiled Russian Jew considered one of the greatest artists of the 20th Century, often portrayed Jewish folk culture, and the show itself is named after one of his paintings.

Fiddler on the Roof runs through April 5. Thursday and Friday performances begin at 7 p.m., Saturday evening shows begin at 8 p.m. and Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday matinees begin at 2 p.m.

Tickets are $22-$28 with discounts for students and seniors. Contact the Box Office at 532-3120 or visit