Sharks, Jets to rumble again in SU/Syracuse Stage production of ‘West Side Story’
As part of their annual holiday collaboration, Syracuse Stage and the SU Department of Drama will present “West Side Story” from Nov. 29 to Jan. 5. The annual collaboration gives drama students an opportunity to work side-by-side with professional actors in a major musical production.
Directed and choreographed by Anthony Salatino, “West Side Story” is based on the conception of Jerome Robbins of a book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.
In this modern retelling of the Romeo and Juliet story, a Latino gang called the Sharks battles the Polish-American Jets in late 20th century America. When Tony, a Jet, and Maria, the sister of the Sharks’ leader, the strength of young love overcomes the deepest hatred.
” ‘West Side Story’ truly demonstrates how dancing, singing, acting and design can merge into a single means of expression,” Salatino says. “The themes of this work, even though it was written during the 1950s, still resonate today. Tony and Maria search for love and forgiveness, and human life is devalued.” Salatino directed and choreographed the joint Syracuse Stage/SU Drama Department production of “Peter Pan” during the 2000 season, and last season’s “Oliver!”
Starring as Tony and Maria are Michael Gillis and Natalie Cortez. Gillis performed last summer in the Merry Go Round Playhouse’s production of “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” and has just returned from the Czech Republic, where he performed in a concert for flood rescue workers.
Cortez was last seen in the national tour of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella” and recently appeared as a vocal soloist with the Westchester Philharmonic Orchestra.
George M. Livengood plays Riff, Tony’s best friend. David Villella will play the role of Bernardo, Maria’s hotheaded brother.
Returning to Syracuse Stage in the role of Anita, Maria’s best friend, is Izetta Fang, last seen here as Tiger Lily in “Peter Pan.” Snowboy, a member of the Jet gang, is played by SU Drama alumnus Robb Sapp, who comes directly from the off-Broadway hit “Zanna Don’t!”
Working in tandem with the professional actors are the multi-talented students who make up the remainder of the cast. The members of the Sharks include Noah Aberlin (Pepe), Josh Bradecich (Toro), Diane Cammarata (Teresita), Lauren Creel (Francisca), Brett Essenter (Luis), Caroline Gulde (Margarita), Lauren Haughton (Estella), Erin Kukla (Rosalia), Clarence Leggett (Anxious), Heidi Lembke (Consuelo), Paul James (Chino), Cory Pattak (Juano) and Renee Threatte (Esperanzit).
The Jets are played by Kristin Hoesl (Velma), Nicole Dupras (Clarice), Greg King (Action), Emily Mattheson (Anybody’s), Marissa McGowan (Graziella/Somewhere Girl), Missy Morrison (Minnie), Michael Penna (Diesel), Jill Samuel (Pauline), Matthew Stucky (Big Deal), Stuart Williams (A-Rab), Kristi Williamson (Sandra), and Jordan Bass (Baby John). Bass also serves as dance captain.
Rounding out the cast are Eric Miller as Lt. Schrank/Glad Hand, Nick Lichtenberg as officer Krupke and Booker T. Washington as Doc.
For the first time, students will serve as understudies for the professional actors. With 15 student matinees scheduled in addition to the regular public performances, the schedule is grueling. In order to give everyone a rest, Salatino decided to schedule specific performances during which student understudies would cover for each actor. The understudies are Cammarata (Maria), James (Bernardo), King (Tony), Kukla (Anita), Sapp (Riff/Action), Erin McNerney (Shark understudy-swing), Pattak (Chino understudy) and Threatte (Shark swing).
“This is a tremendous opportunity for our students,” says James Clark, chair of the drama department and producing director for Syracuse Stage. “They get to work with professional actors and have a chance to show the Central New York community the depth of their musical and acting talents. In addition, the students get an early taste of what it is like to be a cast-member in a professional, Broadway caliber production.”
Tickets cost $16-$40 and are not part of a regular subscription package. Tickets may be obtained by calling the Syracuse Stage box office at 443-3275 or on the Web at syracusestage.org.
In keeping with an annual holiday tradition, Syracuse Stage audience members are asked to donate non-perishable food items, men’s clothing, blankets, sheets or towels at the stage throughout the run of the show. Food donations will be given to St. Lucy’s Food Pantry, and clothing, blankets and sheets will be sent to the Oxford Inn, a shelter for homeless men.
Photos by Alexandros Karomilas.