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Welcome to MPAC’s West Side Story!

Our 5th Annual Spring Musical Production, West Side Story, will take place for 4 performances only, June 2 – 4! Tickets are on sale now at MayoArts.org.

“We see so much youth talent at MPAC and they are definitely ready to take on the challenge of West Side Story,” said Cathy Roy, MPAC’s Education Director. “We’ve put together an amazing cast and are giving these young performers a true professional experience they will never forget. Although West Side Story originally premiered in 1957, its theme still resonates today. We are hoping by telling this powerful story that we can remind our audiences about the hope and power of love in a time of divide and tension in our society.”

The diverse cast features over 50 young performers from throughout New Jersey and New York City. The show features Equity guest artists Scott McCreary and Lauren Csete as Tony and Anita, respectively. Rounding out the lead casts are Alessandra Le Pera (Maria) from Florham Park, Jeff Lawless (Riff) from Staten Island, Michael DiGangi (Bernardo) from Cedar Grove, Christian Harvey (Action) from Randolph and Rachel Levy (Rosalia) from Montville.

The show is directed by Cathy Roy. Musical Director is Charles Santoro. The original Jerome Robbins choreography has been adapted by Jayme Wappel.

The story of Romeo and Juliet is transported to the turbulent streets of New York City in the 1950s as star-crossed lovers are caught between rival street gangs. West Side Story originally opened on Broadway in 1957. The original musical featured music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and choreography by Jerome Robbins.

West Side Story: Birth Of A Classic

Take a #ThrowbackThursday walk down memory lane! The Library of Congress exhibition “West Side Story: Birth Of A Classic” features a treasure trove of artifacts that chronicle the creation of West Side Story.

The collection includes original notes by the artistic collaborators, rehearsal photos and more! View the full exhibition here.

Rehearsal Photographs, 1957

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Synopsis and Choreographic Notes for “Somewhere” Ballet

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Poster for Original Broadway Production

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Meet The Cast: Lauren Csete (Anita)

Meet our Equity Guest Artist Lauren Csete, who plays the role of Anita!

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Can you tell us please a bit about your background in theater? 

I went to the Boston Conservatory and I have my bachelor in fine arts from there. I started really getting into performing when I auditioned and got into the New World School of the Arts in Miami, FL. I went there for musical theater and that’s where I started performing in theater and in shows.

How did you hear about the auditions for MPAC’s WSS?

I did Paper Mill Playhouse’s production of WSS last spring with Jayme Wappel, the choreographer, and she asked if I would come out and audition. And that’s what I did!

Okay, moving on to harder questions: Why is this show and/or role important to you?

This role is extremely important to me because I think it presents issues that we still face today of acceptance, most importantly. I love that this is one of the key musicals that is really telling a story through dance.

In MPAC’s production, you are playing “Anita.” What do you and “Anita” have in common? How are you different?

I think we both are very fiery, bold, brave, strong women. How are we different… hmm…  I think the way in which we express our ferocity may be a little different. But I do feel very close to Anita for sure.

What is your favorite scene or song in the show?

You know, my favorite scene and song is the first scene Tony has and he sing’s “Something’s Coming.” I just love it!

As a professional Equity actress, please tell us about your experience being a role model for these young performers?

It really has been wonderful working alongside these young performers and being a role model for them. I think back to when I was their age and I wish I would’ve had this experience because I would’ve learned a lot. All of the young actors are really professional, talented, sweet, and great to work with!

If you could be any other role in the show, who would you be?

I think I’d want to be Riff. He’s so cool! He’s got this swag about him that I envy.

Why should people come see this production of West Side Story?

We have done a really great show here. The quality of the work is really great, we are doing original choreography which is always fun and amazing to watch, to dance, to see, to experience. It’s incredibly riveting. Cathy and Jayme and Charles have done a really, really great job putting this quite difficult show up on it’s feet.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I’d love to thank you, Dayna, for talking with me! Thank you Cathy, Jayme, Charles, Curtis and everyone involved. It’s been such an honor to play one of my dream roles really. After WSS, I’ll be working at the Goodspeed Opera House in Connecticut, doing their production of Oklahoma! So, if you’re in the area come and check it out!

Thank you Lauren! We look forward to seeing you dancing on the MPAC stage June 2nd, 3rd, and 4th in West Side Story!

The Making Of West Side Story

The original creative team of West Side Story was led by four powerhouse artists: Composer Leonard Bernstein, Choreographer Jerome Robbins, and Lyricist Stephen Sondheim and Librettist Arthur Laurents.

In this video, part of Carnegie Hall’s “Somewhere Project,” Jamie Bernstein (daughter of Leonard Bernstein) discusses this four incredible collaborators and the unique perspectives each contributed to the project.

 

The Somewhere Project: A West Side Story Companion is part of Carnegie Hall’s Somewhere Project, a new initiative drawing inspiration from West Side Story to redefine New York City as a “place for us.” For more information, visit http://carnegiehall.org/westsidestory.

Meet the Cast: Christian Harvey (Action)

Today on the blog, we welcome high school senior Christian Harvey. Christian has appeared in all 5 of MPAC’s spring musicals! He has also been a member of MPAC’s teen Performing Arts Company, and had the opportunity to perform with MPAC students on Broadway and at the White House! We are sad to see him leave us this spring, but wish him all the best in his sure-to-be-bright future!

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Christian, tell us about yourself!

I’m Christian Harvey. I’m 17 years old and I’m from Randolph, NJ!

How long have you been a part of MPAC?

This is my fifth year at MPAC.

How did you first find out about MPAC?

Five years ago, my mom’s co-worker saw an ad for auditions for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, the first mainstage production at MPAC, in the newspaper. He knew I was interested in theater. So he gave it to my mom and she basically forced me to audition. I actually didn’t want to audition because I was too nervous and I thought I wouldn’t get in. I had been at MPAC to see shows before but I had never performed here. But it turned out I did get in and they liked me and everything transpired from there!

MPAC has had five mainstage productions. We have already mentioned Joseph, then there was Hairspray, Les Miserables, Mary Poppins and now West Side Story. You have been in all five of them?

Yes, I have.

In those other shows you went up through the ranks and you played the smallest part to now one of the major principle roles of “Action.” What has that been like for you to be a part of all five MPAC mainstage productions?

It was a great feeling. I finally felt like all of my hard work and dedication and commitment is finally paying off. It validates how hard I’ve been working. Starting out in the ensemble and slowly progressing up to play a lead part and having that trust.

And for this particular part, is it different than any other role you have played?

Yes! I have never played an angry type of character before. It’s quite a challenge because when I play my characters, I take experiences from my personal life. So I’m thinking when I have ever felt this or when I have dealt with a situation similar to this character’s situation. But with Action I have never experienced anything like him.

How are you like your character?

We are alike because we are both impulsive. We like to say things that are off the top of our head and not necessarily filtering through what we are going to say. I feel like we are also both very grounded people. We both know who we are and we are not afraid to show it. Action knows he’s aggressive but he’s not afraid to keep his feelings inside and neither am I.

Being a young performer of only 17, where did you learn these techniques of connecting to your characters?

A lot of it came from working with our director, Cathy Roy, throughout these five years and how she always wants to build organic characters. In every production, she always reminds every single member of the cast, from the smallest part to the leading role, to be true to your character. She has a way of making the actors with the smallest roles feel crucial to the story that is being told. And she’s right!

Why do you think people should come see this production of West Side Story?

This show has themes that are so relevant to what is happening right now. People want to believe that we as a country have moved beyond racial discrimination but it’s still a real issue. There are still people who are scared to show themselves and this show addresses that.

So, what is next for you?

I’m graduating from high school and going to Boston Conservatory at Berklee College of Music to study musical theater!

 

Stephen Sondheim on “West Side Story”

West Side Story‘s lyrics are by the legendary Stephen Sondheim, one of Broadway’s greatest living songwriters. Beyond West Side Story (written when he was in his 20s!) his credits include Gypsy, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Sweeney Todd, Follies, Company, Assassins, Sunday in the Park With George and Into the Woods. He has received 8 Tony Awards, including a Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre.

Watch as Sondheim discusses some of the quirks he encountered while writing and recording the album for West Side Story!

Meet The Cast: Alessandra Le Pera (Maria)

Meet Alessandra Le Pera, West Side Story’s MARIA!

Alessandra LePera

Tell us a bit about yourself!

I’m 19, I go to Drew University and I’m majoring in theater!

This is your first spring musical here at MPAC! How is your experience at MPAC so far?

It’s amazing! It’s so professional and I’m really enjoying it.

How are enjoying portraying one of the most iconic roles in musical theater?

It’s challenging and wonderful all at once. She is a dream role of mine. I was in West Side Story in high school and I played “Anybodys”, which is quite different!

What scene or song from West Side Story do you love the most?

I love “I Have A Love” and “A Boy Like That”. I love that scene as a whole. Both the vocals and the acting are so emotional. And being able to work alongside professional Equity actors is amazing.

Yes! In MPAC’s WSS, we have two professional Equity actors, Scott McCreary and Lauren Csete, playing the roles of “Tony” and “Anita” respectively. Tell us what that is like for you as a young performer who will soon be entering into that professional world!

It’s incredible. It pushes me to work harder. It is intimidating… but it really does push me.  The role of Maria is teaching me a lot, but working next to professionals makes me go further. And I’m really finding that with that pushing and extra work, I am able to do things I didn’t think I could do before. So, it’s just an amazing learning experience and an amazing experience in general.

Why do you think people should come see West Side Story at MPAC?

First of all, the production level is extremely high. It’s extremely professionally done and it is not only about the students that are super talented, but professionals that are also so talented. It’s a high scale production. Nothing about it is amateurish. It’s incredible that there are young students in high school involved in a show at a theater that is so amazing. Professionals and students coming together to make art. It is art!

What do you think the message or theme of WSS is?

There is a theme of hate. This musical shows that sometimes people just hate each other for the worst of reasons, like where you were born. So, I think the message is just learn to love one another. In the show, there is a “Dream Ballet” utopia where everyone loves everyone else. And it’s a beautiful world.

Last question! If you could be any other role in this show, what role would it be?

Can I pick a boy? Haha! I’d love to be Riff. I love Riff! His stuff is so great and everything he does is so cool. He has a few really funny lines and he’s just a great character!