Staples' Jets, Sharks to rumble in 'West Side Story'

Grace McDavid Seider and Clay Singer play the star-crossed lovers Maria and Tony in the Staples Players production of "West Side Story," which opens Friday, Nov. 11 at Staples High School's mainstage theater.
Grace McDavid Seider and Clay Singer play the star-crossed lovers Maria and Tony in the Staples Players production of "West Side Story," which opens Friday, Nov. 11 at Staples High School's mainstage theater.Contributed Photo

The Staples Players this month will stage six performances of the classic musical, "West Side Story," the gritty tale about street gangs, racial strife and forbidden love.

The production premiers the evening of Friday, Nov. 11, in the mainstage theater at Staples High School, and the run includes a Sunday matinee and four more evening shows.

"West Side Story" debuted on Broadway in 1957, and the most recent Broadway revival now is on a tour of the U.S. and Canada.

Set on the streets of Manhattan's West Side in the mid-1950s, "West Side Story" centers around the activities of two rival gangs, the Jets, made up of white neighborhood youths, and the Sharks, made up of recent Puerto Rican immigrant youths.

They battle over turf, and their choreographed fight scenes, are acknowledged as stage classics.

The play is an adaptation of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," and in this version, the tragic love story involves Tony, the founder of the Jets, and Maria, the younger sister of the Sharks' leader, Bernardo.

The original Broadway choreography by Jerome Robbins won a Tony Award. Songs by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim include "Maria," "America," "Tonight," "I Feel Pretty" and "Somewhere."

The Staples performance includes the original Robbins choreography, and directors David Roth and Kerry Long said they have been impressed with the time and work students have invested to master the dance steps.

More Information
WEST SIDE STORY Where: Staples High School mainstage theater When: 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 11, 12, 17, 18 and 19. Sunday matinee Nov. 13 at 2 p.m. Ticket prices: Students, $10; adults, $15 Buy tickets: Online at www.staplesplayers.com; at the door 30 minutes before performance, as available, cash and checks only; walk-up sales at box office on Nov 8, 9 and 10 from 12:30 to 2 p.m. Double-cast schedule: www.staplesplayers.com Info: www.staplesplayers.com or call 203-341-1310

"This is a tough, tough dance show, and they have really been working incredibly hard to perfect each move," Long said. "From doing daily push-up and ab workouts to build strength and muscle, to practicing sometimes six days a week, these boys have really gone the extra mile."

Staples' Jets and Sharks have been working with choreographer Joanne Kahn and Bradley Jones, a Staples alumni and former Broadway dancer who staged the show's intricate opening sequence.

Fight choreographer Chris Smalley, who previously worked with the Staples Players on "Romeo and Juliet" and "Jesus Christ Superstar," has staged the Jets-Sharks' rumble sequences.

Roth predicted the dance scenes would be great by opening night.

"About half the cast have extensive dancing roles. ... Our kids are ready for this huge challenge," he said.

The songs offer challenges as well.

Junior Clay Singer, who plays Tony, admitted to a bit of apprehension. "I'm a little nervous but excited to take on the classics, `Maria' and `Somethings Coming.' This is definitely the hardest music I have faced," he said.

Other cast members predicted there will be plenty for audiences to like.

"It is so hard to pick a specific thing that the audience will like about the show because there are so many amazing aspects to it," said Junior Tyler Jent, who plays Bernardo. "The huge dance numbers are already looking absolutely incredible."

Senior Sophia Ribolla, one of two actresses who play Anita, said the gang rivalry is compelling. "The conflict between the two gangs ... really brings people to the edge of their seats," she said.

Senior Charlie Greenwald, who plays Riff, said the performance will bridge generations.

"There's always a generation to introduce things to and a generation to remind about how wonderful something is," he said.

Dave Seltzer is the technical director, and Peter Barbieri Jr. designed the set. Costumes for the entire cast of 65 students are fashioned by Marjorie Watt and Priscilla Stampa.