Sex, power, territory, forbidden romance, and some of the highest caliber choreography the theater world has ever seen can all be found in this year’s fall theater production of “West Side Story.” Students began work at the end of August in their numerous choreography, music, and staging rehearsals, preparing to perform the show Nov. 8-11.

“West Side Story” is a revival of Shakespeare’s timeless tale ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ as two wide-eyed teens from opposite sides of an intense feud fall madly in love despite all extraneous forces working against them. The story unfolds in New York City in the 1950’s. The feud prevalent throughout the show is between the Jets, a gang of homegrown all-American boys with Brooklyn accents almost as thick as their hair gel, and the Sharks, a gang of recently immigrated Puerto Ricans trying to make new lives in the States while retaining their Latin culture. The rivaling gangs have reached a point where peaceful co-existence in the city is no longer possible, and Shark leader Bernardo (played by junior Sam Downey) and Jet leader Riff (played by senior Zach Steinfeld) go head to head to plan a rumble: the fight that will determine who will gain dominance over the streets.

Another prominent player in the rivalry is feisty Latina Anita (played by senior Alex Pare), who is the loyal girlfriend of Bernardo. But just as all of this unfolds, Jett member Tony (played by senior Joe Capelouto) and naiveté Shark Maria, who also happens to be the younger sister of ferociously protective Bernardo, (played by senior Megan McCurry) have already fallen madly and uncontrollably in love. And naturally they cannot allow the rumble to happen. Maria sends Tony to end the violence once and for all, but before the lovers even know what’s happened, tragedy strikes and continues to do so until the show’s heart wrenching finish.

The decision to perform such an intense and rigorous play was a hard one, as pulling off “West Side Story” is no easy feat. Pace hasn’t performed a true tragic musical since “Les Miserables” back in 2004, and “West Side Story” presented itself as a prime opportunity. “I’ve wanted to do it for many, many years, but I’ve been waiting until I had a huge arsenal of male dancers,” director Dr. Mengert said. “But then I realized that if I wait for boy dancers, then we’d never do the show!”

In fact the dancing is one of the main elements that makes the show stand out as a whole. The show’s professional choreographer, Jen McQueen, took on the task of rounding up the novice high-schoolers to turn them into, or at least make them look like, Broadway level dancers. Junior Cory Bush, who plays the feisty young tomboy Jett named Anybodys, said, “The choreography is super intense, but it looks great! I come home from those rehearsals completely exhausted, but it’s worth it and I know that people will love it.” To give readers an inside taste of these rehearsals, they usually last from three to four hours at a time and consist of non-stop dancing and repetition of moves to ensure that cast members will know it like the back of their hands.

All the while dancers are attempting to learn the difference between an elevé, relevé, and chassé, Jen’s Broadway-bound five-year-old son Thierry is running around the theater in search of a playmate who enjoys race cars, tag, “Star Wars,” or a combination of the three. Choreography rehearsals, however chaotic and stressful they are, are usually the most exciting and well liked out of the three types of rehearsals (music, blocking, and choreography). Sophomore Alyssa Calloway (playing Jett girl and Riff’s girlfriend Valerie) said, “Choreography is definitely my favorite. Jen is quirky and crazy, and it is one of the more glamorous aspects of theater that really get you excited for the show!”

Dancing isn’t the only element needed to put on a good show. One must also be able to sing while doing it. Music rehearsals with Musical Director Beth Barrow-Titus are an extremely important aspect of mastering the notes and harmonies to make the show not only look, but also sound, good. “My favorite part is the songs we get to sing,” senior and leading lady Megan McCurry said. “I get to sing higher than I have ever sang before.” Vocal rehearsal take place in the chorus room, a place hardly visited by those not enrolled in the class, as Ms. Barrow-Titus directs the cast in hitting the right notes and staying on pitch while pianist Susan Wallace helps out with the accompaniment.

The third and critical type of rehearsal is staging/blocking with “Doc,” as director Dr. Mengert relays his vision as to how he sees a certain scene playing out to the needed actors on stage. Actors clutch their scripts and a pencil to write down his instructions to eventually remember the lines and the movement by heart. Sam as Bernardo takes a different approach to these rehearsals. “I’m pretty good at memorizing things,” he said. “I usually just learn all my lines before the actual rehearsal and remember the blocking as I go along; I have no need to write it down.”

The same cannot be said for assistant directors, junior Jaclyn Lund and senior Caroline Herman, who have the task of writing down everything Dr. Mengert dictates in case somebody forgets it later. “When signing up to be assistant director you are essentially signing up to stay on top of all the constant changes Dr. Mengert flip-flops between,” Jaclyn said. “But it all works out by at least the last dress rehearsal. Dr. Mengert is certainly a character as all people in theater know, but the shows wouldn’t be the same without him.”

All of this time dancing, singing, and acting culminates in the magnificent Fall show opening Thursday, Nov. 8. “Fall show season is always my favorite time of the year,” junior Alexandra McCorkle (Consuela) said. “Not only is my birthday month in November, but we finally get to show off everything that we’ve been working so hard for. It’s going to be fabulous!”

By Riley Muse, Staff Writer ’14

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