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'West Side Story' last curtain call for Staples choreographer

Published 4:00 pm, Tuesday, November 8, 2011
  • Joanne Kahn instructs a trio of dancers during a rehearsal for the Staples Players' production of "West Side Story." When the show closes later this month, Kahn plans to retire after 22 years as choreographer for the high school theater group. The show opens its six-performance run Friday evening, Nov. 11. Photo: Contributed Photo / Westport News
    Joanne Kahn instructs a trio of dancers during a rehearsal for the Staples Players' production of "West Side Story." When the show closes later this month, Kahn plans to retire after 22 years as choreographer for the high school theater group. The show opens its six-performance run Friday evening, Nov. 11. Photo: Contributed Photo

 

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Joanne Kahn has been directing dancers in Staples High School musicals for 22 years. And her final show has been one of her stiffest challenges.

Kahn plans to retire as the Staples Players' choreographer after the six-show run of "West Side Story" -- which opens Friday evening.

Kahn this fall has been teaching the "West Side Story" dance cast the original, complex choreography that first dazzled Broadway audiences in 1957 and won a Tony Award for Jerome Robbins.

Set on the West Side of Manhattan in the mid 1950s, the show's dancing includes confrontations between rival street gangs -- the Jets and the Sharks -- plus fight scenes.

"This is a tough, tough dance show," director David Roth said, and about half the cast have heavy dance roles.

Kahn agreed about the challenge, saying the choreography is among the most difficult the Staples Players have tackled during her more than two decades.

"Introducing the cast to Jerome Robbins, one of the great choreographers of American dance and theatre, has been very rewarding, Kahn said in the news release. "Watching the students learn the complicated score, and combine it with original dance routines and beautiful songs, makes this show truly memorable."

Among Staples shows over the years, Kahn lists "A Chorus Line," "Cabaret" -- and "West Side Story" -- as the most challenging for dancers because of the demanding original choreography.

When "West Side Story" closes, Kahn's retirement will leave a large void, Staples theater people said.

"Joanne is a remarkable collaborator, "West Side Story" co-director, Kerry Long said in the release. "We have spent countless hours analyzing shows, figuring out the best way to stage things. Joanne is a fountain of ideas and is always game to try something new."

Long also credited Kahn's teaching skills.

"Joanne is a wonderful teacher and is remarkable working with the students," Long said. "She truly cares about each and every one of them -- and they know it."

Senior Helena Wippick, one of the troupe's dance captains, agreed.

"JoJo is one of a kind, and Players won't be the same without her," Wippick said in the release. "The way she works with the students is probably the most inspiring. She has a way of breaking down the choreography for those struggling with it. She isn't the type to lose her patience when someone is having trouble with a move. If someone needs help, she is there to give it to them."

Kahn said she is indebted to the students.

"I would like everyone to know how enriched my life has been because of my involvement with the students," she said. "They have given me a venue to express myself artistically through them in so many ways. Their vibrant and enthusiastic energy has sustained me."

What have been Kahn's favorite Staples' musicals over the past 22 years?

"It is truly very hard to choose my favorite productions because there have been so many phenomenal shows over the years," she said.

Still, she said, some classic musicals should be seen by everyone.

"There are plays that carry very important messages that every generation should see," Kahn said. " `South Pacific,' `Cabaret,' `Runaways,' `Fiddler on the Roof,' `The Sound Of Music,' `Rent' and `West Side Story' are examples."

Performances of "West Side Story" in Staples' mainstage theatre are scheduled at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 11, 12, 17, 18 and 19. A 2 p.m. matinee is scheduled Nov. 13. Tickets are $10 for students, $15 for adults. Tickets are available at Staplesplayers.com and at the door, as available, 30 minutes before the show. Cash or checks only will be accepted at the door.