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St. Paul, NCS students rehearse for 'West Side Story'

Cary Ashby • Feb 5, 2017 at 4:00 PM

Nicole Martin and Maryanna Broome are part of the chorus for “West Side Story,” but the St. Paul High School students have a backstory for their characters.

“I call her Patricia,” said Martin, 15, a freshman who sings and dances in the upcoming production. “She’s one of the Shark ladies.”

The St. Paul/Norwalk Catholic School production of “West Side Story” will be performed March 2, 3 and 5. The 35-member cast includes seventh- through 12th-graders. The musical also includes 10 to 15 high-school and adult musicians in the “pit” orchestra.

Martin and Broome said learning how to dance is their biggest challenge.

“I’m not much of a dancer,” said Martin, who was in “Sound of Music” at St. Paul and a few dinner-theater productions put on by St. Mary’s Catholic Church.

“One of the guys I have to dance with isn’t much of a dancer (either),” the Norwalk girl added with a smile. “For me, the dialogue is not too bad (to learn) because I’m pretty good at memorizing.”

In “West Side Story,” there is racial tension and an ongoing hatred between two gangs — the Jets (Caucasians) and the Sharks (Puerto Ricans).

“I’m on the Sharks side,” Broome said. 

The 15-year-old freshman’s character is “a tomboy type.” The Vermilion girl said that fits her own personality since she has similar qualities.

“She doesn’t agree with the way her mom wants her to dress. (Her mom) doesn’t like that she dresses as a tomboy,” Broome said, referring to her character.

Her biggest challenge, like Martin, is the dancing, especially swaying her hips while she moves.

“That’s what the girls do — especially the Puerto Rican girls,” Broome said.

“West Side Story” is a modern interpretation of “Romeo and Juliet.”

“It has boy (Tony) and girl (Maria) who fall in love and they’re on different sides. The girl is Puerto Rican and the dude is American,” Broome said.

Junior Mackenzie Smith, 17, plays Maria. The Wellington teenager had roles in the previous St. Paul musicals; Smith played a munchkin in “The Wizard of Oz,” Sister Margaretta in “The Sound of Music” and Shulie in “School House Rock Live!,” which was last school year’s production.

As Smith finished rehearsing the musical number “I Feel Pretty,” Broome gave her an enthusiastic response.

“Love it!,” she yelled. “I do; I really love it.”

It took Smith one to two weeks to remember most of her lines.

“I have a notebook and I wrote my lines over and over. I’m a visual person,” she said.

The junior said Maria faces family tension in “West Side Story” she’s the sister of one of the Sharks leaders. 

About Maria’s love interest, Tony (junior Joseph Swope), Smith said her character is supposed to be “head over heels (in love) over this guy and do anything for me” and the two don’t want to be apart from each other.

Senior Jason Phillips plays Riff, the leader of the Jets.

He was in “The Wizard of Oz” and “The Sound of Music.” Despite all that prior experience and performing in the St. Mary dinner theater productions, a smiling Phillips said “a lot of luck, I guess” might be involved in mastering all the skills he uses in a musical. 

Director Theresa Barcus said the cast “is doing really great” as they rehearse and believes the students can find various elements to relate to in “West Side Story.” She directed “School House Rock Live!” last school year.

Barcus, of Norwalk, said the students were excited to learn they would be performing a musical with more drama since “last year’s was fun and nostalgia.” Also, she said she wanted the cast to do something different and more grown-up. 

By the time the audience finishes watching “West Side Story,” cast members want there to be tears.

“We want them to feel the emotion of it all,” Smith said.

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