For this show, cast members act their age

Musical: Merely Players' `West Side Story' features a cadre of students performing the tale of star-crossed young lovers.


Arundel Live

April 15, 2004|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Merely Players' production of West Side Story will be a young "all-star show," with performers from many area high schools and colleges brought together to form a large cast of many diverse groups.

Director Jeffrey Hitaffer was enthusiastic about the show and confident about choosing a cast of novices for the Leonard Bernstein-Stephen Sondheim musical. Hitaffer said that his goal was to find a cast to "create a believable West Side Story with the best high school students.

"We met earlier challenges of getting them to believe in the show and work well together," he said, "so we now have a fantastic cast with everyone so good that even the chorus kids could be leads."

His innovations extend to new staging, with a 13-piece orchestra seated at the rear of the stage; the musicians will become part of the scenery, not detracting from the action.

Hitaffer described the orchestra as a group largely drawn from a pool of talented young musicians with a leader identified as Dave "the piano guy" Richardson.

The show has a superb choreographer in Jodi Atkins, who won acclaim for her work on Swing and the 42nd Street production at Chesapeake Music Hall.

"With this basically high school cast, I wanted to do all my own choreography and not rely on the classic movie dances. There are a few numbers where we have to keep some of the original steps, but I'm doing mainly original choreography here," Atkins said.

At Monday's rehearsal, young talent was scattered everywhere in the facility. From what I saw in a packed rehearsal room, the dance numbers are full of raw energy and excitement. Imaginative choreography will feature airplane spins, lifts, leaps, splits and gymnastics.

In the main theater, a 13-piece orchestra rehearsed, doing no harm to Bernstein's incomparable score with a lush "Maria" and lively "Tonight." Enacting their version of "Maria," South River High's Elena Crall as Maria and Broadneck High's Andrew Lincoln as Tony brought something new to this mid-20th-century, New York-based retelling of Romeo and Juliet.

"West Side Story" opens April 23 and runs through May 2 with performances on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. For tickets and information, call 410-636-6597.

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