By SUE SUCHYTA
Southgate Community Players present the ground-breaking musical “West Side Story” at 8 p.m. Nov. 13, 14, 20 and 21 at Davidson Middle School, 15800 Trenton Road in Southgate.
Tickets are $15, with a $2 discount for students and seniors. To order, call 734-282-4727 or go to scponstage.com.
The Tony Award-winning play features a book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, libretto by Stephen Sondheim, and conception and choreography by Jerome Robbins.
Based on Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” “West Side Story” is a musical love story set in New York City’s Upper West Side in the mid-1950s. It broke new ground in American musical theater with its serious tone and its look at prejudice and gang violence.
The musical features a sophisticated score, and original choreography with extended dance sequences.
The show includes many familiar and favorite songs, including “Something’s Coming,” “Maria,” “America,” “Somewhere,” “Tonight,” “Jet Song,” “I Feel Pretty,” “A Boy Like That,” “One Hand, One Heart,” “Gee, Officer Krupke,” and “Cool.”
Directed by Chris Rollet of Southgate, with music direction by Rich Alder of Westland, the show features the choreography of Tina Brow of Brownstown Township.
Phill Rauch of Southgate and Erin Schmidt of Brownstown Township co-produced the show.
Emily Noble of Wyandotte plays Maria, with Brandon Dominguez of Livonia as Tony. Tamara Marla of Southgate plays Anita to Christopher Gawel of Detroit’s Bernardo.
Rian McDonald of Southgate plays Riff, the leader of the Jets.
Rollett, who played Bernardo when SCP did “West Side Story” 23 years ago, said he wanted to direct the classic show with its great music and story.
“Everybody knows the show, so you don’t have to sell them on it,” Rollet said, “But if you just tell them ‘You’ll be surprised how many songs in it you actually know,’ you would hardly find a song that you don’t recognize.”
Marla said she wanted to be a part of the show because it is a well-known musical theater staple, and she finds the Romeo and Juliet underlying tone appealing.
She said she finds Anita to be a sassy, witty character.
“She is a little bit rough around the edges, but I think she is also very affectionate to the people she cares about,” Marla said. “So she’s pretty dynamic, and it’s been really interesting kind of diving into that kind of a character.”
Marla said the show has a lot of great choreography and vintage clothing.
“I love seeing the costumes alone, and seeing the dances,” Marla said. “I love the big group numbers.”
Gawel said “West Side Story” is a classic, and he remembers watching the movie as a child.
“I’ve been singing these songs in my head since I was probably 12,” Gawel said.
He said Bernardo, his character, is irritated with everything around him, and that makes him the leader of the Sharks.
“He sees the wrong,” Gawel said. “I guess the other characters are a little bit more naive with the injustice that they see. Bernardo knows a little bit more about where they are headed in adulthood.”
Gawel said his biggest challenge playing the leader of the Sharks is he feels he must work hard to be a leader in the dance numbers, as well, and to make it look natural.
McDonald said he is a strong dancer and gets to do a lot of dancing in the show.
“I’ve been dancing for over 20 years now, and his character was one of the reason I started dancing,” McDonald said. “So it’s kind of like full circle for me.”
He said he loves to sing, but he has way more experience dancing. His said his experience with martial arts and stage combat has come in handy for the fight scenes.
“It’s a blend of the dancing and fighting, what sets this show aside from a lot of other shows,” McDonald said. “You get a chance to do both at the same time. You get a very violent, artistic fight.”
Not much has changed in 50 years in terms of tensions with recent immigrants, McDonald said.
Dominguez agrees that the racial tensions and gang violence seen in “West Side Story” are still very present today.
“It’s two teenagers, it’s about two different gangs that are fighting against each other, so there is violence that kind of draws the younger crowd,” he said. “Everything that is in this musical can be seen today still.”
He said the musical score is one of the best of all time, and it is a part he has wanted to play for a while.
Noble said her role is one she has wanted to play since she was 9, when she saw the show at Wyandotte’s Roosevelt High School.
“I fell in love with the role, and got the girl’s autograph,” Noble said. “I’ve always loved the ‘Romeo and Juliet’ plot, and so I knew that was going to be on my bucket list. I wanted to play Maria one day.”
Noble said after seeing “West Side Story” at the Stratford Festival in Ontario, her passion for the role grew.
“Maria and I are a lot alike,” Noble said. “We are both very small women with a lot of power, and we have a lot of passion for life. So, yes, I am really excited to play this role.”
Because Maria chooses to live instead of dying, Noble feels that role generates more emotion from viewers.
“You think about her living without her love now,” Noble said. “At least in ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ they are together, even if it is a tragic ending.
“But here we have a real life story where we have someone moving on with their life, without the love that they wanted,” Noble said. “So it is more real life. I think it is easier for people to relate to.”
Noble said the cast is loaded with people who can sing, dance and act.
“We have talented dancers, we have talented singers, we really have what you call ‘the triple threat,’” Noble said. “If you want a great entertainment, that will sweep you off your feet, and really pull your heart-strings, the show is for you.”
Others in the cast include Allen Park residents David Buhr as Chino, a Shark; Holly Knick as Rosalia, a Shark girl; Kellie Runkle as Clarice, a Jet girl; and Brandon Van Houton as Diesel, a Jet.
Also Lincoln Park residents Markus Cuevas, Timothy Fee and Matthew Vasquez as Sharks; Brad Hardecki as Action, a Jet; Ethan Jacoby as a Jet; Ana Pauli as Anybodys, a Jet girl; and Merritt Solomon as Graziella, a Jet girl.
Also Kenny Witz of Riverview as a Shark; and Southgate residents Nathan Benjamin as a Shark; Destiny Frank as Margarita, a Shark girl; Zachary Morgan as Baby John, a Jet; Phill Rauch as Glad Hand; and Geoffrey Robinson as Officer Krupke.
Also Michael Parks of Taylor as a Jet; Trenton residents Lara Keathley as a Shark girl, John Meiers as Detective Shrank, and Matt Mayes as a Jet; and Wyandotte residents Sarah Noble as Shark girl Francisca, and Tony Primeau as a Shark.
Also Kierra Woodman of Brownstown Township as Minnie, a Jet girl; Flat Rock residents Ally Balan as Velma, a Jet girl, and Rick Town as Doc; Amanda Johnson of Rockwood as Estella, a Shark girl; and Sydney Villanueva of Woodhaven as Consuelo, a Shark girl.
SCP HOLDS ‘ODD COUPLE’ AUDITIONS
The Southgate Community Players will hold auditions for Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple” at 7 p.m. Nov. 15 and 16 at the Corner Playhouse, 12671 Dix-Toledo Road.
Directed by Jema McCardell, the show runs at 8 p.m. Feb. 5, 6, 12 and 13 at Davidson Middle School, 15800 Trenton Road in Southgate.
The 1965 Tony Award-winning comedy features neat freak and uptight news writer Felix Ungar, and sloppy and easygoing sportswriter Oscar Madison. When Felix’s wife throws him out, Oscar takes him in, but with their opposite personalities they soon start to drive each other crazy.
Other characters include four poker buddies – Murray the cop, Speed, Vinnie, and Roy, Oscar’s accountant, and the Pigeon sisters – Cecily, a divorcee, and Gwendolyn, a widow.
For more audition information, call 586-489-5521.