"West Side Story" at the Weston Playhouse
Updated: Feb 24
"The young troupe, trained by choreographer Felicity Stiverson, proved exacting, relentless and genuinely exciting as they delivered the unfettered passion of youth." - Jim Lowe, The Rutland Herald
"The girls who feature in the gangs members’ lives are well-played character types, particularly by Bella Muller as Velma." - J. Peter Bergman, The Berkshire Edge
Star-crossed lovers Tony and Maria have to fight to keep their forbidden love alive in this reimagining of Romeo and Juliet set in 1950’s New York. One of the most celebrated musicals of all time, this production commemorates composer Leonard Bernstein’s 100th birthday and recreates Jerome Robbins’ award-winning choreography. Based on a concept by Jerome Robbins with a book written by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim.
Approaching this production was like that of approaching Hamlet. A show you dream of doing your whole life but find very daunting when confronted with the expectations and actual demands of it. Auditioning for Weston’s “West Side Story”, I was aided by very dear teachers Lori Leshner and Marilyn D’Honau – both having had a long history with the show. I first learned Robbin’s choreography from Lori Leshner in college. She taught us every section of “Cool” – even the boys’ sections! There is something so visceral in the choreography that the explosive movements capture so perfectly. Both Leshner and D’Honau (who debuted in the original production at 16 years old) coached me through my dance audition, eventually landing me in the role of Velma.
We had a little under three weeks to learn all of Robbin’s choreography from the phenomenal Felicity Stiverson (our Choreographer). First day of rehearsal we learned “Dance at the Gym” in under two hours! I knew my work was cut out for me but I was so inspired to live up to all of these women who came before me. We had the unique challenge of a rather shallow stage and a cut down ensemble, but even with that you could feel the electricity within the cast performing this material. Before we knew it, the show was ready and we were opening to sold out houses every single night.
Another thing that made this production special was that it was the last show to be directed by Tim Fort at Weston Playhouse. He, along with Malcolm Ewen and Steve Stettler, ran the playhouse cohesively for over forty years. This season marks their retirement and the turning of a new page at the playhouse. I grew extremely fond of Tim throughout the process and now count him as a true friend. Being surrounded by his colleagues and people who have worked with him since the beginning, I was just starting to grasp what an artistic impact he has had on this community and our community at large. I mourn what else I could have learned and soak up everything I could.
Denied of much singing in the production, I was challenged to do all my story telling through dance. Something I hadn’t done in a long time. I grew up in the competitive dance world but soon traded that for acting and singing. This would mark my first real return to my dance roots in a very long time.
This production was a challenge unlike any other I had faced in my career thus far. I learned so much from the people around me and really grasped how much this show means to people. Many in the cast make their careers off of this show. Everyone in the audience has specific memories and opinions coming into it and you feel the energy between the audience and the stage – a dance unto itself.
Though I may never perform this choreography again, it is an experience I will treasure for the rest of my life.
There’s a time for us
Someday a time for us
Time together with time to spare
Time to learn, time to care
Photography: Hubert Schiriebl & Tim Fort