Dance to the music: Choreographing "West Side Story"
Published: Monday, April 6, 2009 - 10:56pm
The choreographers for Uni's production of "West Side Story": Kim Alexander (left) and Alicia Cross Engelhardt. Gargoyle photo by Michelle Gao (click to enlarge)
It's Monday, March 30 — only three days of practice left before the opening of Uni's production of "West Side Story." Senior Teddy Zamora-Mills has been pulled aside early during the dress rehearsal.
There's a problem with his timing in the opening dance number. As Bernardo, the leader of the Sharks, he's in the very front of the gang's sequence in the opening scene. But after just a few eight-counts and a brief review, the timing issue is resolved like magic.
IF VISUAL IMAGES could trigger sound, then watching the dance scenes of "West Side Story" would be like seeing a cymbal crash.
During four sold-out performances last week in the North Attic Playhouse, the combination of bright costumes and a large cast created a vibrant, brilliantly colorful, and synchronized effect as the actors moved around the stage in unison.
An ambitious production for a school of only 300 students, "West Side Story" was put on with the help of two choreographers, Alicia Cross Engelhardt and Kimberly Alexander, who brought an impressive amount of experience to the show.
Cross Engelhardt has choreographed "The Pirates of Penzance," "Bye Bye Birdie," and "Anything Goes" for Uni in past years, and a multitude of shows in other venues.
Alexander got involved with "West Side Story" after meeting director Barbara Ridenour at the Illinois High School Theatre Festival, and has choreographed "Grease," "Footloose," "West Side Story," "You're A Good Man Charlie Brown," "The Wiz," "Little Shop of Horrors," "Honk!," and "Cinderella."
During the big dance scene where Bernardo competes with Riff (junior Zack Goldberg), leader of the Jets, it's hard to believe that this cast is actually made up of everyday 21st-century high schoolers. Junior Jared Doyle swings classmate Brittany Scheid around, and I have trouble recognizing they're the same people I see five days a week.
Bringing any Broadway musical to Uni has its challenges, but staging a classic such as "West Side Story," originally choreographed and directed by the legendary Jerome Robbins, was worth the effort.
"It is a challenging pleasure to bring 'West Side Story' to life and to try to stay close to the original vision of Jerome Robbins' choreography," said Cross Engelhardt.
Both she and Alexander have enjoyed their work with Uni students. Neither choreographer was put off by the young ages or relative lack of dance experience of many cast members.
"Young people are fascinating and full of potential!" Alexander exclaimed. "I love the opportunity to place my footprint into everyone's life. I have learned just as much from the cast as they have learned from me … probably more."
Added Cross Engelhardt: "I enjoy working with people of any age, so the age of the participants is not an issue for me. I really enjoy the experience."
At the March 30 rehearsal, everyone looks genuinely happy to be on stage and dancing, no matter the size of their role, and the level of concentration they've applied to this is clear. It's official: The dances have been learned.
And when opening night finally arrived, it showed. Sharks and Jets and their girls captivated audiences with their polished movements; Anita (senior Sarah Lake-Rayburn) and Rosalie (senior Karen Han) and their friends wowed everyone with a delightful, exuberant rendition of "America"; and Tony (senior Daniel Borup) and Maria (senior Sheri Grill) moved fluidly from one iconic number to another.
"I would just like to say I'm proud of the cast and crew of 'West Side Story,'" said Alexander. "I have never had to choreograph in an 'attic,' nor have I ever seen a play produced in one.
"This challenge alone would keep some actors/actresses from participating, but these students rise to the challenge and leave a lasting impression in your heart! Congrats cast! Job well done!"
More photos of "West Side Story" Choreography
Juniors Zack Goldberg as Riff (center) and Anna Gooler as Graziella set the pace in an early dance sequence. Gargoyle photos by Michelle Gao (click any photo to enlarge and to create your own slideshow)
From left, Snowboy (freshman Johnny Shapley) receives the Officer Krupke treatment from Jet wannabe Anybodys (sophomore Stefanie Senior) and fellow Jet members Baby John (sophomore Charlie Newman-Johnson), A-Rab (sophomore Ben Zehr), Diesel (freshman Will Erickson), and Action (junior Jared Doyle).
"WEST SIDE STORY" CAST, Orchestra, and Crew MEMBERS
Music by Leonard Bernstein
Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
SPRING MUSICAL 2009
- Director: Barbara Ridenour
- Music Director: Rick Murphy
- Choreographers: Kim Alexander, Alicia Cross Engelhardt
- Costume Design: Mary Stasheff
- Performances: Thursday, April 2, to Saturday, April 4, in the North Attic Playhouse; all shows were sold out
- Tony: Daniel Borup (sr)
- Riff: Zack Goldberg (jr)
- Action: Jared Doyle (jr)
- Diesel: Will Erickson (fr)
- A-Rab: Ben Zehr (so)
- Baby John: Charlie Newman-Johnson (so)
- Snowboy: Johnny Shapley (fr)
- Velma: Brittany Scheid (jr)
- Graziella: Anna Gooler (jr)
- Anybodys: Stefanie Senior (so)
- Minnie: Erin Berl (su)
- Clarice: Sierra Marcum (sr)
- Pauline: Vivian Robison (jr)
- Jet Girls: Brianna Hajek (su),
Ella Lubienski (su), Juliana Trach (su)
- Bernardo: Miguel Zamora-Mills (sr)
- Chino: Aramael Pena-Alcantera (fr)
- Pepe: Rodney LeNoir (fr)
- Luis: Stirling Lemme (su)
- Toro: Jack Gillette (su)
- Shark Members: Kaila Simpson (su), Alex Valdez (su)
- Maria: Sheri Grill (sr)
- Anita: Sarah Lake-Rayburn (sr)
- Rosalia: Karen Han (sr)
- Consuela: Lauren Piester (sr)
- Teresita: Kahlilah Cooke (so)
- Francisca: Martha Yoshida (so)
- Margarita: Maia Gersten (fr)
- Shark Girls: Melissa Rosas (su), Kaila Simpson (su), Alex Valdez (su)
- Officer Krupke: Steve Rayburn (English teacher)
- Doc: Rob Diehl (sr)
- Lt. Schrank: Jeremy Kemball (sr)
- Glad Hand: Hannah Leskosky (sr)
- Percussion: Adam Joseph (so), Chris Mathy (so)
- Clarinet: Jacob Druker (sr), Katherine Floess (so), Leif Hague (su)
- Saxophone: Clement Dossin (sr)
- Tuba: Hannah Johlas (fr)
- Bass: Carl Pearson (sr)
- Violin: Chelsea Edwards (su), Annie Rong (fr), Joey Smith (fr), Chae Won Park (su)
- Trombone: Aaron Wilson (su), Lisa Sproat (so)
- Trumpet: Robbie McMillen (fr), Ian Slauch (so)
- Flute: Francois Dossin (fr), Marie Lilly (fr)
- Cello: Petra Rantanen (su)
- Directing Assistance: Steve Rayburn
- Stage Manager: Tianna Pittenger
- Lighting Design & Board Operator: Natsuki Nakamura
- Sound: Natsuki Nakamura
- Set Design: Sierra Marcum
- Poster: Margarita Mouschovias
- Program: Lauren Piester
- T-Shirt Design: Lauren Piester