Chesapeake refines its `West Side Story'

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Arundel Live

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

Three weeks into rehearsals, the Chesapeake Music Hall folks are deep into choreographing the Sharks and Jets rivalry of Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story, opening Saturday for a two-month run at the dinner theater off U.S. 50 on Busch's Frontage Road in Annapolis.

Bernstein's 1957 masterpiece looms large with its brilliant score, perfectly wedded lyrics penned by a then-27-year-old Stephen Sondheim and the original choreography of Jerome Robbins. It is the timeless tale of young love and hate that is Romeo and Juliet, transported to 1950s Manhattan and into the racial tensions between street gangs the Puerto Rican Sharks and the Anglo Jets.

At a rehearsal break last week, Chesapeake Music Hall owner Sherry Kay Anderson and her co-director Katy McAllister-Danckaert recalled the Music Hall's production of A Chorus Line in 1997, which Anderson directed, with McAllister-Danckaert serving as assistant director.

Having directed nearly every show since, Anderson has served as singer, dancer, choreographer, set designer/builder, costume creator and general manager.

Anderson and McAllister-Danckaert have a strong rapport. McAllister-Danckaert has directed a number of shows with Anderson, including Big River and My Fair Lady, while continuing to work with the children's theater, Lost Caravan, which she co-founded.

Anderson said that in the coming production, "the music is in the capable hands of Marsha Goldsmith."

She said the cast members are "strong, extremely talented, and they include familiar favorites as well as newcomers, all experienced performers that I expect will bring excitement to this production."

McAllister-Danckaert said, "These actors have the capacity to dig deep to find the different layers of their characters and to reveal them."

Musical director Goldsmith said she has dreamed of working with a production of West Side Story since she bought the piano conductor score as a teenager, when the movie was first released.

The lead in the Chesapeake Music Hall's recent Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Jeffrey Glenn Hitaffer, will play Bernardo. Having directed Merely Players' West Side Story in April at Chesapeake Arts Center, Hitaffer is qualified to assess the strengths of the music hall's version. As in that earlier production, former police officer Hitaffer is choreographing the fight scenes with Jamie Hanna.

Hitaffer said that among the cast members, Jason Vellon is "very believable as Tony" and "Tiffany Shannon is a great dancer and has the essential charisma to be a strong Anita."

Music Hall newcomer Iliana Inocencio, a sophomore at Catholic University of America, will play the female lead Maria. Another newcomer and Catholic University alumna, Natalie Kajf, will make her Chesapeake Music Hall debut as Francisca.

Opening Saturday, "West Side Story" will run through Sept. 18 on weekends and Wednesdays at Chesapeake Music Hall. For information and reservations call 410-626-7515 or 800-406-0306.

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