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Sharks, Jets Face Off on Darien High Stage

DARIEN, Conn. – Darien High School Theatre 308’s faculty adviser Nancy Herman first directed “West Side Story” back in 1992.

Staples High School produced its own version in the fall, and Brien McMahon High School will be doing it this spring as well. But this did not stop Herman from directing the musical for a second time this spring.

Before the auditions, Theatre 308 held workshops so students could learn the dances and be introduced to the musical’s score before trying out.

“We knew that for this show we were going to have to try and encourage new people — particularly boys — to audition, and we thought workshops would make auditions less intimidating and allow people to know what to expect,” Herman said.

“More than half of the guys that are in the show have had no prior vocal or performing experience, and I'll be a little subjective and say that I'm really impressed with all of them,” said senior Addison Thalhamer, who plays Riff, leader of the Jets.

Asked to describe his character, Tony, senior Kevin Koenitzer replied, “He’s a combination of teenage angst and excitement — a very interesting but very volatile character.”

Seniors Mike Stovall, Kincade Webster, Charlie Baird, Cal Kevorkian and Grayson Horan are juggling baseball, track, Post 53 and hockey commitments on top of the musical. This is the last year these boys can participate in 308, so they were all willing to make time for the show because they wanted to be part of the selective cast.

“I feel as though our potential for this show far surpasses that of the shows that 308 has done in the past,” said senior Nicole Gutierrez, who plays Maria, the modern, Hispanic counterpart of Shakespeare’s Juliet.

“West Side Story” has been a huge undertaking for Theatre 308 with its intense and demanding choreography. Katie Mulcahey, a professional commercial dancer, and math teacher Lauren DiStefano are choreographing the musical.

“I am thrilled to be working with such a great group of kids. They’re eager to learn and experience a new aspect of performing,” Mulcahey said.

All dance moves are modified steps from the original 1956 Broadway production as well as the 1961 movie. The first month of rehearsals was dedicated to dance alone.

“We truly hit the ground running with this show and have tried to tackle as many dance numbers as possible before even blocking the more acting-oriented scenes,” Thalhamer said.

Though it is racial tensions that drive the plotline of this show, according to senior Hannah Caldwell, who plays Anita, “this show is centered on the loss of innocence." This thematic element is highlighted by the inclusion of faculty members in the show. Herman cast teachers from Darien High School to play the adult characters to highlight the naivety of the two gangs and their violent ambitions to rule the streets.

The production crew had to build from scratch a set made up of scaffolding to create a sense of New York City. Senior Juli Flynn, one of the head set designers, said, “The set is large scale and very vertical. It is more technical than most productions because the pieces stand separate from one another on stage. Each architectural component of the set takes on a free-standing, independent presence.”

More than 30 kids participated in building the sets, but only 16 will be needed on the running crew because most of the set remains static for the duration of the show.

The cast hopes that its audience will leave the theater after the show with nostalgic memories of their own journey of growing up — whether it is the good, the bad or the ugly. According to Gutierrez, “Maria, the peacemaker between the rival gangs at the end of the show, is a beautiful representation of an ideological existence that, I believe, exists somewhere inside each of us.”

Tickets can be purchased online for the shows March 22, 23 and 24 at 8 p.m. at www.seatyourself.biz/theatre308.

McKinley Stauffer is a senior at Darien High School. She is the content editor for the Darien High School newspaper, Neirad. She has been a staff writer for Neirad since her freshmen year and last year won the Connecticut Journalist of the Year award. You can contact McKinley at mtstauff@gmail.com .

If you would like to write an article for TheDailyDarien.com, contact editor Matt Zalaznick at mzalaznick@thedailydarien.com.

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