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Ike students bring ‘West Side Story’ to the stage

By: Eric Czarnik | Shelby - Utica News | Published February 24, 2020

 Eisenhower High School students work on a theatrical set for their upcoming production of the musical “West Side Story.”

Eisenhower High School students work on a theatrical set for their upcoming production of the musical “West Side Story.”

Photo provided by Eric Wells

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SHELBY TOWNSHIP — Eisenhower High School student actors are getting ready to rumble as they prepare to stage the classic musical “West Side Story” Feb. 28-29.

Eisenhower theater teacher and director Eric Wells said in an email that he was motivated to introduce “West Side Story” to  a younger generation because he loves the musical and thought it would be a good exercise.

“I knew the talent level of my students, and I wanted to challenge them,” he said. “I think it is important to always push my students to achieve and want more, and also expose them to all types of shows that are out there.”

Drawing inspiration from Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” the plot of “West Side Story” involves forbidden romance in 1950s New York City amid tensions between two gangs, the white Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks. Popular songs from the musical include “America,” “I Feel Pretty,” “Tonight” and “Somewhere.”

Wells believes that the musical’s theme and message are relevant today.

“It teaches the life lessons of tolerance, acceptance, love, forgiveness and empathy,” he said. “It even touches upon how a life could be wasted if it is lived in anger, hate, prejudice and intolerance. It is a great juxtaposition of people wanting better for themselves and how other people do not see any other way except what they already know.”

Wells said Eisenhower’s production calls for a cast of 69 student actors, as well as a stage crew of 30 students. He said the students have been diving into their roles in order to capture each character’s essence and nuances. He said that, while some students at first needed more direction in their portrayals, they now are flourishing.

“With the show being as big as it is, there is some pressure to get it right,” Wells said. “I like seeing the growth they all have shown in the process of working on the show.”

A few of the students who are playing characters on the Jets’ side talked about how rehearsals are going. Eisenhower junior Carly Irwin said this is the third show she has been in at the school.

“My favorite part, I guess, is just dancing,” she said. “The choreography is very tricky at first, but it’s something that’s more easy now.”

Madeline Balog, an Eisenhower junior, plays the part of Graziella and said the challenge of mastering the choreography should pay off when the curtain opens.

“The audience will like, probably, all the intense choreography because it shows that we’re putting a lot of effort into this to make it look like the movie, which is just a classic too,” she said.

Sophomore Hailey Nichols plays the role of Pauline from the Jets, and she talked about how the dancing is different than contemporary dance. She described some of the musical’s themes that she considers applicable today.

“It speaks a lot on segregation and being treated different because of things you can’t change,” she said.

Eisenhower High School’s 25th Street Players will present “West Side Story” at 7 p.m. Feb. 28, and at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Feb. 29 at their school, located at 6500 25 Mile Road in Shelby Township. Admission costs $12 per adult and $10 per student or senior citizen. Order tickets online by visiting showtix4u.com.

The school is rating the show PG-13 due to some violence and language. Find out more about Eisenhower High School by visiting eisenhower.uticak12.org or by calling (586) 797-1300.

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