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January 2006

Release Date: January 27, 2006

Sharks and Jets to Rumble in West Side Story at ASU

When the Angelo State University production of the venerable musical “West Side Story” takes the stage in February, dozens of actors and actresses will make their on-stage dancing debut.

Staging a musical that requires actors to be as quick on their feet as they are with their lines can be a challenge when there is no dance department and almost everyone in the musical has limited dance experience. But thanks to the efforts of student choreographers, the infamous rumbles between the Sharks and the Jets will come to life in vibrant fashion in University Auditorium Feb. 10-12 and 17-18.

“The cast are doing incredibly well,” said Brian Jones, who is choreographing the musical along with Shaun Yates and Jessi Timm. “You don’t just choreograph, you teach the cast what they are doing, so that it’s not just them learning, but a productive experience.”

The musical is ostensibly a version of the Shakespeare classic “Romeo and Juliet” set on the tough streets of 1950s New York. Tony, the brother of the leader of the “American” gang the Jets, falls in love with Maria, sister of the head of the Puerto Rican gang the Sharks.

In spite of the friction that arises between the two groups, Tony and Maria’s love flourishes, only to end tragically.

“The story itself does teach us something,” said drama professor Bill Doll, who is producing and directing the musical. “Love can grow out of this huge battle and this hate between two groups. And if it can happen for Tony and Maria, it can happen for anybody.”

Producing the play involved more than just teaching the actors and actresses how to dance. Doll and the choreographers had to account for fitting a cast of 32 onto the stage of University Auditorium, and then had to tailor their movements to the space constraints.

A 12-piece orchestra also was required to perform Leonard Bernstein’s Latin-influenced, brassy score for the musical, adding another piece to the production puzzle.

“When you’re producing a big musical like this, it’s as much about management as it is about reaching a specific vision,” Doll said. “You get a better product when you let people create together and do their job. It’s nice when you have a lot of creative people to work with.”

But by far, the largest challenge was turning a group of novice dancers into a fleet-footed troupe that could fluidly move to the music while still making the fight scenes realistic.

“It’s always a challenge to choreograph a fight in a musical because I don’t like things to be farcical,” Jones said. “There’s a lot of realism in the fighting, but it’s set to music.”

The musical will show at 8 p.m. Feb. 10-11 and 17-18 in University Auditorium, 2601 W. Avenue N. There will be a matinee at 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 12.

Tickets are $8 for the general public, $4 for non-ASU students and $3 for ASU students. Arts at ASU subscribers are admitted free. Tickets may be purchased at the door 30 minutes before the start of the show, or in advance at the modular theater in the Carr Education-Fine Arts Building. Reservations may be made by calling 942-2000, 2-6 p.m. Monday-Friday, beginning Feb. 1.

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