FINAL CURTAIN: My Thoughts On Closing Weekend of 'West Side Story' at Casa Mañana
As we began work on Casa Mañana's production of West Side Story (which closes Sunday, 3/12), it became clear that the themes of this show were more relevant than ever and far from being considered "dated". That term, "dated", is sadly often used when a show is considered "old-fashioned." But In the wake of a troubling and confusing time in our country, prejudice and slander have unfortunately taken the forefront of today's headlines. Our director, Eric Woodall, envisioned a production of West Side that not only spoke true to the period in which it was originally written, but also became a reflection of the society we currently live in and the state of our nation.
Using a black-and-white palette to illustrate the inversions of the two rival gangs: the Jets and the Sharks, Eric led a team of brilliant and skilled designers (Tammy Spencer, Sam Rushen, Bob Lavallee, Maria Leon, Cat Petty-Rogers Kyle McCord, to name a few) to illuminate the Dome with a crisp definition of opposing sides. And those opposing sides would come together in a dream ballet sequence that elucidated mellowness, camaraderie, and hope; hope that, as the song says, "there is a place for us with peace and quiet." With a management team like Jamie Grossman, Christina Jones, and Soni Speer, that show was able to flow seamlessly and smoothly.
I've been a fan of the show for as long as I can remember and it has been an honor and a privilege to be a part of Casa's production. Our choreographer Jeremy Dumont, who brilliantly recaptured the original Jerome Robbins choreography for the Dome, said during rehearsal one day that not many theatres in the DFW area are able to take on the challenge of remounting the show, especially with its iconic original dance and movement; that DFW doesn't do many dance-heavy shows such as this one. Hopefully, this production encourages other theatres to revive shows like this or A Chorus Line, 42nd Street or other musicals made famous for their choreography by Bob Fosse, Michael Bennett, Jerome Robbins, etc. Jeremy's long history and involvement in touring productions of the show was helpful in reviving the Robbins' choreography, but it was Jeremy's spirit and dedication to the material that helped the movement thrive through us each and every day in rehearsal. And working with Eddy Robinson as our music director was a blessing because he helps us sound so good singing this Bernstein/Sondheim score and making sure we are on point for every performance. He is such a fun and spirited human-being and it has been a joy getting to know and work with him.
Being able to return to Casa in its current season after September's Jesus Christ Superstar has been a thrill and a delight. The short rehearsal process of Superstar especially prepared me for the physical demands and schedule of West Side. While I may not dance as much as everyone else - the "Dance at the Gym" and "Somewhere Ballet," however, are among my favorites to watch and be a part of - I had as much determination to learn my track as I would have had Chino been a part of the more extensive dance sequences. Being able to watch the work of our Jets and Sharks in those iconic production numbers is awe-inducing and inspiring for someone like me who doesn't consider himself a dancer and wants to continue to train and get better at it.
The rehearsal process continually kept me on my toes (literally) and at the top of my game when it came down to solidifying blocking and choreography, music, and book scenes, the latter of which required more one-on-one time to work with my director, which I had hoped for. Not for self-assurance of the work I was doing, but because I'm of the mindset that I want to be able to use my abilities to tell the story as accurately as I can and provide a solution for the scene at hand. Eric really helped me to understand his interpretation of Chino and gave me the freedom to incorporate the backstory I developed and how to use that as a jumpstart for how Chino's actions ultimately end the play.
I've never really been a part of a group of guys, onstage or in my personal life, and the camaraderie associated with that. West Side afforded me the opportunity to work with and develop a relationship with a group of guys: the Sharks - Sean Ewing (Bernardo), Domanick Hubbard, Mikey Sylvester, Bryan Ingram, and Kwame Lilly - who in the show have all been ridiculed and tormented because of their background and want to take their place in the neighborhood they've moved to. Working with this amazing group of actors, and even our Jets - John Riddle (Tony), Adam Soniak (Riff), Adam Jepsen, Sam Wolf, Drew Redington, PJ Palmer, Trevor Wright, and Taylor Ratliff - really had a positive effect on me and my work on the show, finally being a part of a brotherhood-of-sorts. (As a child, I was usually more of a friend with the adults, even in the show I am with working with Bob Reed, Greg Dulcie, and David Coffee.) From fight choreography, "toughening up," and showcasing a different side of me I had never really tapped into (the antithesis of my "jazz hands" personality), working with the Jets and Sharks of this production has been very rewarding and even challenging since I never had any sort of relatable experiences in a group like this; I was building it.
And what would the guys be without their girls? First off, Addie Morales (Maria) and Cassidy Stone (Anita) have been a joy to work with. We constantly keep ourselves from laughing and goofing around just a tad bit too much, both onstage and off. The effort they bring to their roles and musical numbers really allow the audience to easily fall in love with them just as we have by working with them. Their voices soar and they can dance their butts off. Same with our Shark and Jet girls: Olivia Sharber, Jill B. Nicholas, Alexandra Cassens, Amber Flores, Cristina Maria Castro, Bailey Poe, Courtney Chilton, and Morgan Parmley... I love each and every one of them and they are the belles of the ball... or dance at the gym, in this case.
I hate to say goodbye to this beautiful show and these amazing people, but I hope that with this production of West Side Story, we were able to help open the eyes of patrons and encourage them to bring joy and peace to the world, rather than harm and detriment to others and having that permeate through the "open air". Because if it does, there is no place for us... any of us.
Be strong and do not give up, for your hard work will be rewarded. - 2 Chronicles 15:7