‘Fiddler’ takes to the stage in Denver, Phamaly-style

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Two young south area actresses will be onstage when the much-loved musical “Fiddler on the Roof” opens July 18 at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts in the Phamaly Theatre Company’s annual musical production.

The unique company, started a number of years ago by a group of actors with disabilities, produces an annual musical and in recent years a straight play and some original work as well.

Emerson “Emma” Stark, age 7, who lives in Highlands Ranch, will play Tevye’s youngest daughter Bielke, and 18-year-old pro Kenzie Kilroy, of Littleton, will be the bookish middle daughter Hodel. The musical, by Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick and Joseph Stein, is based on Sholem Aleichem’s stories of Russia and tells of milkman Tevye’s ongoing effort to keep cultural traditions in his family’s lives. It has played all over the world for 50 years.

Emma, the granddaughter of longtime Phamaly choreographer Debbie Stark, says she especially enjoys hanging out with her grandma during rehearsals. Rehearsals, every night, are “really long,” but she snoozes in the car on the way there. “Everyone is really nice” in the “Fiddler” production, she adds. She recently performed as a space kid in the Magic Moments benefit show, also choreographed by Stark. She reports with delight that ghostly Frumah Sarah flies in her wheelchair in Fiddler.

Phamaly actors are recognized for their stage skills — and for the fact that they put on a fine show with a variety of disabilities. Emma has type 1 diabetes and says she has to test more often when she’s involved in this intense activity.

She will be in second grade at Copper Mesa Elementary School in the fall and studies dance at Debbie Stark’s Kaleidoscope dance studio. She has two older siblings — one of whom has performed at the Arvada Center. Other summer fun includes a lot of swimming, Emma said.

Kilroy graduated early from Columbine High School last year and is moving to Los Angeles when “Fiddler” is over.

In the past year, she has understudied three parts in the Arvada Center’s “Dividing the Estate,” performed in Ben Dicke’s “Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson” at the Aurora Fox and in “Hair” with the Evergreen Players. She has an agent and hopes to get into film work.

Kilkroy learned about the Phamaly company from Robert Michael Sanders at Arvada and her voice teacher, Traci Kern. She was aware of the company, but thought one had to have a physical disability. Her problems are dyslexia and ADD, and cognitive and emotional problems are included, she learned. “It’s not only for persons in wheelchairs.”

She auditioned for Hodel in the spring. “It’s been my dream part since I was 10. I auditioned for it while in school but got a chorus part instead. … I came from a play, but am interested in musical theater.

“You get acquainted in three days,” she said of her experience with fellow cast members. “And they’re fun to hang out with.”

At the first rehearsal, she wondered what the choreography would look like, given the need to adapt to blindness, deafness, cerebral palsy, wheelchairs and other issues. “Some errors happen in rehearsal, but they get worked out.”

To learn her lines, she records herself reading. “I need to figure out how to say things … memorize without switching words. I need to hear the voice.” In this play, she knew the story really well. Her family helps her.

She says she taught herself to sing, but now studies voice with Traci Kearn, to become more professional. She dances, but has reservations about her abilities. “That’s why I’m going to LA instead of New York. In New York, you have to dance.”

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