KIDSTAGE goes big time with ‘West Side Story’

July 14, 2009

By David Hayes

Elise Myette (Maria) and Kyle Anderson (Tony) sing to one another on a fire escape staircase, scene from Village Theatre KIDSTAGE Summer Independent’s ‘West Side Story.’by Jean Johnson/Property of Village Theatre

Elise Myette (Maria) and Kyle Anderson (Tony) sing to one another on a fire escape staircase, scene from Village Theatre KIDSTAGE Summer Independent’s ‘West Side Story.’by Jean Johnson/Property of Village Theatre

Joey Bennett was looking for a challenging project to direct his first full-length production with Village Theatre KIDSTAGE’s Summer Independent program. His team chose “West Side Story.”

“I was looking for a show everybody loved and admired,” said Bennett, 20, a Liberty High School graduate. “Especially after the successful runs of ‘Sweeney Todd’ and ‘Pippin’ in the past.”

A veteran of the KIDSTAGE program since the eighth grade, Bennett’s experience was mostly in light production and some directing in one-act plays.

He couldn’t have picked a better time to go big. Due to renovations on Village Theatre’s First Stage, the production will run July 18–25 at the Francis J. Gaudette Theatre. It’s proving to be quite the leap in production values for Bennett and his crew and cast.

“It’s a little intimidating, to be honest,” he admitted. “It makes it more challenging.”

For example, the First Stage is 29-by-40 feet, compared to the main stage’s 36-by-40 feet dimensions. The main stage also seats nearly 300 more patrons within its confines. In addition, Bennett’s lighting plans have expanded from “40 or so to a couple 100.”But his teams are up to the challenge. The KIDSTAGE Summer Independent is the pinnacle of the KIDSTAGE program; the productions are planned far in advance and exhibit some of the finest talents KIDSTAGE has to offer. Generally composed of KIDSTAGE veterans, Summer Independent productions are also produced, designed and directed entirely by young artists and mentored by theater professionals.

Set in the mid-1950s on Manhattan’s west side, known as Hell’s Kitchen, “West Side Story” is based on Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” and tells the tale of a rivalry between two teenage gangs of differing ethnic and cultural backgrounds. It features music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, including such Broadway standards as “I Feel Pretty,” “Tonight,” “Maria” and “America.”

Bennett is overseeing a cast of 33 actors and a crew of 10, with another dozen on production, ages 13-20.

“Even the orchestra is bigger,” he added. “We usually have about four, but for this, we’ve got 20. It’s totally crazy for a Summer Independent show.”

Helping Bennett transition to the bigger stage, which required bigger production numbers, is choreographer Eia Walter.

“She’s incredible,” Bennett said. “She brings so much experience.”

An additional benefit of working at the main stage is getting total use of the costume racks. Although this is KIDSTAGE’s first-ever production of “West Side Story,” Bennett said the main theater has produced it in the past.

“There are more than 70 costumes for the show, which is ridiculous,” he said.

The stage production is different than the movie version, which condensed a lot of the script and reshuffled some musical numbers. Bennett said although many of the KIDSTAGE productions attract mostly friends and family, this is one the general public should be excited to see.

If you go

‘West Side Story’

July 18-25

7:30 p.m. Thursday – Sunday

2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Village Theatre’s Francis J. Gaudette Theatre

303 Front St. N.

$12 – $14

392-2202 or www.villagetheatre.org

Reach Reporter David Hayes at 392-6434, ext. 237, or dhayes@isspress.com. Comment on this story at www.issaquahpress.com.

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