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Attack of the 'West Side'

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Posted: Thursday, September 17, 2009 10:00 pm

This Thursday, Lodi Musical Theater's second production, "West Side Story," will open on the stage of Hutchins Street Square, complete with gang rivalry, 1950s dress and lively dance numbers. With 50 cast members, singers and dancers from the Lodi area, director Nicole Warren says the show is bigger than last year's Lodi hit, "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," which was put on by the community theater company.

"This is a huge musical and it's very much larger than life," Warren said.

"West Side Story" opens in 1958 in inner city New York, where gangs are on the rise and the whites and Puerto Ricans are devoted to battling for their turf. Completely based on William Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," the play shows the conflict between two different ethnic groups, the Sharks and the Jets. When Tony, a Jet, falls in love with Maria, a Shark, conflict stirs between the two teenage groups, who hate each other based on misunderstandings.

"The story is timeless. It's 'Romeo and Juliet.' It's beautiful and heartwrenching and always will be," said Janelle Chaney, of Lodi, who stars as the Maria in the production.

All the way from Broadway

"West Side Story" has been performed on Broadway since 1957 and won a Tony Award for choreography the same year. The film version, released in 1961, went on to win 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

With the book by Arthur Laurents, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and music by Leonard Bernstein, "West Side Story" is one of the most popular musicals ever produced. It not only fuses a history and an English lesson that Warren thinks Lodi drama and English teachers will appreciate, but it's also highly visual and entertaining.

"This is a heavy, heavy dance show," Warren said. "I would say dance is the strongest artistic component of this show, followed by vocals and their dramatic performances."

It's also a show for all ages: Teenagers will relate to the storylines, and everything from authentic vintage costumes to the rooster's crow 'dos will have audience members remembering their own experiences with that eventful time period.

Crossing borders

"West Side Story" was chosen as Lodi Musical Theater's 2009 performance because there was an opportunity to involve a more diverse cast. Not only do cast members range from ages 14 to 56, but half the cast is Hispanic.

"We chose "West Side Story" because we wanted to involve the Latino community. We wanted to get them excited for (the show)," Warren said.

Five hundred local people auditioned for "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," and Lodi Musical Theater felt "West Side Story" allowed more people to be involved. Half the cast plays the caucasian Jets and the other half - made up of local Hispanics, Asians and one Polynesian - plays the Puerto Rican Sharks.

New company brings new opportunity

In November, Lodi Musical Theater will hold auditions for the April 2010 performances of "Hairspray." In 2010, Warren hopes to stage "Les Miserables," which is currently being written as a full version for community theater. Lodi Musical Theater had planned to perform "Les Miserables" this season in Lodi, but there was an error in obtaining the rights, and the group would have only been allowed to perform the abbreviated educational version.

"(Because of that,) we have been offered the rights to be the first community theater to stage the first version of 'Les Miserables'," Warren said, adding that it's a huge honor.

While hundres of locals auditioned for both of Lodi plays, it is hoped that even more people will audition and realize their potential in the performing arts.

For Warren and Lindsay, the most fullflilling part is not the opening night's performance, but seeing an actor realize his or her potential.

"Watching their passion being molded by a talented director is a magical experience. I feel privileged to bring Lodi Musical Theater Company to our community," Lindsay said.

Behind the scenes with four cast members

Michael Nino, the father and firefighter
Age: 35.
Role: Bernardo.
Background: I attended Lodi schools. Later, I attended San Joaquin Delta College and Sierra College in Rocklin and majored in Fire Science. I currently work for Waterloo-Morada Fire District. I am married and have four children.
Acting career: I do part-time work for TV, film and commercials. I have worked on small theater productions before, but this is my first major theater production.
Favorite plays: "West Side Story," "The Music Man."
Favorite actors: Harrison Ford, Will Smith.
Dream role: I feel I've already achieved my dream role; I'm a firefighter and a father.
Goal for the future: I am really happy where my life is right now. I don't really feel like I could ask for more. I don't want be greedy.
What do you like about "West Side Story"? I have had a lot of fun working with the cast; everyone has been great. I especially enjoy working with Nicole Warren and Collen Lindsay, and look forward to working with them again.
Favorite thing to do in Lodi: Go to the movies and eat at Denny's.

Janelle Chaney is destined for the stage
Age: 20.
Role: Maria.
Background: I started acting at age 8. My first community theatre performance was in the Lodi Hutchins Children Summer Theatre program. I attended Lodi High, where I won the best actress award in our one-acts my freshman year. I got into acting on Lodi's speech and debate team. I attended Delta College and completed their Actors Studio Training Program. I'm continuing my degree in musical theatre at American River College. I have 12 years of acting training, 14 years of classical piano training, seven years of vocal training and two years of dance training.
Acting career: My favorite roles include Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz," Lili in "Carnival," Suzanne in "Picasso At the Lapin Agile," Meg in "Crimes of the Heart" and Mary Magdalene in "Picture Of Jesus: The Rock Opera."
Favorite plays: My favorite musical would probably have to be "My Fair Lady." The song, "On the Street Where You Live," is my all-time favorite song in the world! I have an intense love, passion and obsession with "Beauty and the Beast."
Favorite actors: My favorite Broadway actress will always be Bernadette Peters. I grew up wanting to be her as a child. My other favorite actors are Geoffrey Rush, John Malkovich, Glenn Close, Edward Norton, Denzel Washington, Jodie Foster, Meryl Streep, Rachel Wiez and Audrey Hepburn.
Dream role: Belle in "Beauty and the Beast."
Goal for the future: My main goal is to make my living onstage. I don't care what stage or where, as long as I can spend my life in a career entertaining people and reaching audiences emotionally. Doing what I love more than anything, I'll be content. My dream is to be on Broadway and someday win a Tony Award.
What Do You Like About "West Side Story"? I love the musical score of the show. Music was my first great love, and I find the orchestrations to be lovely and full. My favorite dance number in the show is definitely "Cool." The intensity of that number is extremely palpable and affecting.

Allie Ehlers loves to dance
Age: 19.
Role: Evelyn, a Jet girlfriend.
Background: I have two brothers and a sister. My sister is also performing in "West Side Story." I have played numerous sports most of my life, specifically basketball. I am currently a sophomore at Delta College and working.
Acting career: I performed with Troupe Cabana Studios as a child and I also performed in the previous musical, "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat."
Favorite plays: "Oklahoma," "West Side Story," "The Lion King" and "Guys and Dolls."
Favorite actors/actresses: Hugh Jackman, Chris Pine, Drew Barrymore and Amy Adams.
Goal for the future: Graduate college, travel the world, live on the beach, have a Harlequin Great Dane and a big yellow lab keeping me company, and live life to the fullest of what God has planned for me.
What do you like about "West Side Story"? I love the people involved in the play and how every individual tries their hardest to portray the sensitive meaning of this particular musical. And I love to dance!
Favorite thing to do in Lodi: Anything that my friends, family and myself can come up with. As long as I'm with them, there's never a dull moment.

Anthony Allen wants to explore dark side in roles
Age: 24.
Role: Tony.
Background: I'm an only child. I've been acting for about 12 years, since I was in middle school. I've done shows at Delta College, Stockton Civic Theater and for Lodi Musical Theater.
Favorite plays: "Les Miserables" is definitely my favorite musical, as well as "Cabaret." As far as non-musical theater, I've been a big fan of Shakespeare.
Favorite actors: Jude Law, Edwart Norton, Heath Ledgar. I'm a big fan of Angelina Jolie, of course. I also like Ashley Judd.
Dream role: I was really impressed with "The Dark Knight" and the (role of) the Joker. I dressed up as the Joker for Halloween. That would be a role I'd like. I'd also like to play Jack from "The Nightmare Before Christmas."
Goal for future: I like to draw I like to sing, dance, act, draw . . . It's a matter of finding which one is really my niche. I do plan to move to Los Angeles and pursue acting.
What do you like about "West Side Story"? The message it really entails: It's pointless to use race as a reason to not like nother person. Love sees through all of those things. Tony dies at the end just because he wanted to be with the love of his life.
Fave thing to do in Lodi: Just hanging out with friends. I enjoy doing these shows. It's helped me meet a lot of people in the community.

Lodi Musical Theater at a glance

Director: Nicole Warren
Goal: "Our goal is to work in partnership with city council, the Lodi Arts Commission and Huchins Street Square so we can truly serve the community," Warren said.
First production: "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," 2008.
Funding: A city grant, donations, and by Warren and Lindsay.
Who can participate: Anyone in the community.
Cost: It is free to participate.
About Nicole Warren: Warren teaches ballet, dance and voice in Troupe Cabana Studio. Prior to starting Lodi Community Theater, she owned a private dance company that put on review shows of Broadway musicals. She has been directing for 19 years.
Upcoming shows: "Hairspray" and "Les Miserables."
Auditions: Auditions for "Hairspray" will begin in November.
Information: 369-3434.

"West Side Story" in Lodi

When: Opening night is Sept. 24. Performances are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays through Oct. 3.
Where: Hutchins Street Square, 125 S. Hutchins St.
Time: 7 p.m. each day with a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturdays.
Tickets: $20.
Information: 333-5550, www.hutchinsstreetsquare. com, www.wsslodi.com.

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