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by Nicole Rico

and Juliet, West Side Story has won multiple awards including a Grammy Award for Best Musical Show Album and Tony Awards for Best Choreography and Best Scenic Design. A couple of the classic standard songs include, “Somewhere,” “Something’s Coming” and “I Feel Pretty.” The story is based in New York City and


tells the tale of Tony and Maria. Tony is the former leader of a gang of white kids called “The Jets.” Maria is the sister of the gang leader of the Puerto Rican gang “The Sharks.” Tony and Maria meet at a high school dance and immediately fall in love. But because of prejudice and racism, their love can never be. Along the way violence, and even murder, propels the story. Actor Stephen DeRosa, who plays the role

of Glad Hand in the production, is one of the few adults in the musical that took shape between 1949 and 1956. He plays a chaperone at the school dance, and said his role is tame compared to the other strenuous, dance-heavy roles. “The average age in the company is about

23 or 24, so it’s a very young cast,” DeRosa said. “We have all these really bright, young singers and dancers. Some of them are fresh out of school — a couple of them are fresh out of high school. Lori Werner, our choreogra- pher, had to comb New York and Los Angeles to find the best people to go on the road with the production. They’re in their prime because the choreography is so challenging and so thrilling that you need people who can sing, dance and act. “I’m constantly amazed by the talent

and stamina that these kids have,” he added. “We’re traveling from city to city every week, it’s exhausting but it’s fun. The energy level is high, the kids are little bundles of dynamite and that’s what makes the live experience, that and the live orchestra. It’s much more thrilling and immediate than a scene in a movie.” DeRosa said it’s an honor to work on the

renowned production, especially one penned by four legends of the art. “The four elements of a great musical are

the music, lyrics, the book, and the direction/ choreography,” DeRosa said. “This musical is lucky because it had four of the greatest artists in musical history working on it at the



AST LANS I NG WI L L ERUPT in turf wars when street gangs, with a knack for graceful dance-fighting, take over Wharton Center Nov. 8-13. Based loosely on Romeo

West Side Story tells love story through gang wars

Classic tale comes to Wharton

same time. It was Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, Arthur Laurents and Jerome Robbins. They challenged each other to fight to make it this new thing. It is Leonard Bernstein’s masterpiece — without question. “They didn’t want it to be a standard

musical,” he added. “They wanted it to be something like an opera, a ballet, a movie, and something like a traditional musical. So the combination of all that, at the time, made it this instant classic and made it something that can’t be touched. It’s a work of art that stands alone.” Being a non-traditional production at the

time, DeRosa said West Side Story didn’t win over many hearts when it originally debuted on stages in 1957. “It didn’t have all the standard things,

there were like a million things that the audi- ence rejected at first — they all loved the Music Man in 1957,” he said. “But word of mouth

rapidly spread so that by 1958 it was really on its way. Then in 1961 when they did the film it instantly became one of the most suc- cessful films in history. Meanwhile, the film isn’t really the musical; it’s just a version of the musical. They changed things, they cut things, they moved things, but the film is what everybody knows. If you want the real source, this is what you see.” In recent years, the production has seen

slight changes. It now includes some Spanish dialogue by the Puerto Rican characters. About 10 percent of the dialogue was altered to give an authenticity to the work — but not enough Spanish to confuse viewers, according to DeRosa. “It’s not so much that you wouldn’t un-

derstand the story, just little things here and there to make it interesting,” he said. “They felt it was a little insincere because a 16-year- old who’s just learning English wouldn’t have

that kind of ability with the language as it was originally written. They wanted to go back and explore that dynamic. “It became very exciting for Arthur

Laurents, who was 92, he just passed away this year,” he added. “He was working on the production with us. He was really interested in working on fixing that.” n

WEST SIDE STORY Wharton Center, East Lansing Nov. 8-13, show times at 1, 2, 6:30, 7:30 and 8 p.m. $30-$70, (517) 432-2000



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