Friday, February 18, 2005
"Something's coming" . . . Concord-Carlisle High School presents a "Cool" West Side Story
The Jets and the Sharks will be ready to rumble when talented students bring West Side Story, a modern version of the classic Romeo and Juliet tale, to the Concord-Carlisle High School stage from March 4 to 13.
Of course "modern" is a relative term. West Side Story is set on the west side of Manhattan in the mid-1950s, when a gang comprised of long-time New Yorkers (the Jets) vows to protect their "turf" from a newly-arrived gang of Puerto Ricans (the Sharks) who seek to establish some turf of their own. When Tony, a young man who once led the Jets, falls in love with Maria, a young woman whose brother leads the Sharks, the stage is set for Romeo and Juliet-style heartache and tragedy.
"Even though this show takes place in the fifties, it's still relevant," says senior Alex Brewer of Carlisle, who plays the lead role of Tony. "It has incredible social significance, showing the repercussions of hate; how hate can spread like a virus. It definitely puts things into perspective."
West Side Story, with music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, opened on Broadway in September of 1957, and won a slew of Academy Awards when it was released in 1961 as a movie starring Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer and Rita Moreno. Famed dancer, choreographer and director Jerome Robbins created the concept for West Side Story, and went on to direct and choreograph both the Broadway show and the movie.
The choreographer for the CCHS version is Jennifer Micarelli Webb, a current Shrewsbury resident who grew up in Carlisle. Her mother, Janice Micarelli, choreographed many of the seventh- and eighth-grade plays at the Carlisle School, mostly during the late '70s and '80s.
"This is one of those shows in which dance really furthers the plot," says Webb, who has choreographed several other shows for CCHS; most recently Anything Goes, in 2002. "We had to figure out how to tell portions of the story in dance."
Assisted by CCHS English teacher Dora Golding, Webb says she has spent an estimated 20-25 hours a week teaching complicated dance steps to the cast of West Side Story. (This is in addition to her job as middle school drama teacher in Shrewsbury, and as choreographer for that town's high school production of Footloose.) In spite of her busy schedule, Webb's enthusiasm is clearly apparent.
"This was the right cast at the right time," she says. "There's a lot of dance talent here. A lot of the guys are athletic, which helps a lot. We pulled in guys who do track, football and martial arts. I've been really pleased."
Audiences may be surprised when they see the special stage that has been constructed for West Side Story. It is raked (slanted) toward the audience to make the dance moves easily visible to spectators, and is covered with a shiny black material.
"It's a Mylar dance floor," Webb explains. "It provides a smoother surface for turns and knee slides. Before we put it down, we were all getting splinters in our knees."
Carlisle audience members have watched hometown boy Alex Brewer with great interest over the past several years. Now a senior, Brewer has played leads in nearly every play CCHS has presented during his high school years. He stood out as Younger Brother in Ragtime in 2003 and later that year as Judas in Godspell; as Perchik in Fiddler on the Roof last spring, and as Jinx in last fall's Forever Plaid. In all of those shows, he has played characters who were passionate about an ideal or a principle, he says.
In West Side Story however, he notes that his character is different from his other roles. "[Tony] is more of a tough guy, a villainous hero. I enjoy that duality. On one side, he's a former Jet and has those street instincts, but on the other side he's an evolving romantic who seeks out a peaceful life and true love," he says.
Why should people be sure to get tickets to West Side Story? "It's not only a flashy, fun, energetic show, but it's an incredibly moving, deep and emotional love story," says Brewer. "It's shaping up to be a really excellent show, one of the most memorable ones we've put on at CCHS."
West Side Story will be performed weekends between March 4 to 13, at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and 2:30 on Sunday afternoons. Tickets can be purchased online at ccpops.org.
All photos by John Brewer
© 2005 The Carlisle Mosquito