When Maria sees Tony across a crowded gym in “West Side Story,” she’s echoing a long-ago stage moment – when Juliet first encounters Romeo in Shakespeare’s tragedy of star-crossed lovers.
When Amelia Coccaro plays that scene next weekend in Croton Harmon High School’s production of “West Side Story,” she’ll have a perspective on both moments: This Maria played Juliet in February.
Coccaro alternates in the role with junior Amy Secunda.
Joe Merriam, who directed “Romeo & Juliet” at Croton Harmon in February, had been wanting to direct a Shakespearean tragedy, so when musical director Ivelaw Carrington and director Greg Bradley suggested pairing the Bard with the musical adaptation of the same story, “it seemed like a great fit.”
“Romeo and Juliet,” which boils down to teens dealing with young love, was more accessible to them than, for instance, “King Lear,” Merriam says. “The emotions are right there for them.”
Merriam says Coccaro – who hadn’t played a lead before – was right for the part of Juliet.
“Her Juliet was young and impassioned – but very sensible. In the balcony scene, when Romeo’s talking about love carrying him over the wall, she was like, ‘How did you get in here?’ Very practical.”
Coccaro, a junior, hadn’t auditioned for the musical before, but had played a nun and a prostitute in “Measure for Measure” and was in “Cymbeline” last year.
Playing Juliet was difficult, she says.
“You have to spend a lot of time reading it and interpreting it. Otherwise, you won’t know what you’re doing,” she says. “It meant just going over it in my room several different ways to see which one works.”
Memorization wasn’t difficult, Coccaro says, except “the long bits” – the long speech that starts “Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds,” when Juliet is expecting Romeo on their wedding night.
She enjoyed playing the scene right after that speech, when Juliet “has to think rationally” after learning that Romeo has slain her cousin, Tybalt.
Now, she’s a young Puerto Rican girl whose new love, Tony, kills her brother, Bernardo.
“It’s roughly the same, but Maria is new to the whole culture. She hasn’t grown up there. Everything is new.
“I try to play her very innocently and open to new things,” Coccaro says. “Full of wonderment.”
There are differences, though, between Juliet and Maria, says the actress.
“Juliet knows her surroundings, but she’s more sheltered from the Montague-Capulet problems,” Coccaro says. “She’s told about it but she’s not there for it, whereas Maria is much more closely involved.”
At Croton Harmon, when Juliet encountered Romeo, “I didn’t see him at all. He comes up behind me and presents me with a flower. It was like he surprised me, but I was open to it.”
“In this, we both see each other from across the room and it’s more like a mutual love-at-first-sight thing.”
Juliet in that scene is more flirty and kind of holding off, Coccaro says.
“I think Maria is much more open to just go up to Tony and have a conversation. They’re both cautious, but they really want to speak to each other.
“Juliet was more coy, like ‘Not yet. I’m attracted, but I’m not there yet,'” she says.
Merriam will be there at Croton Harmon next weekend to see the musical retelling of the show he just directed.
How does it compare to “Romeo and Juliet”?
“I have no idea,” says Merriam. “I’ve never seen ‘West Side Story.’ I’m not a big fan of musicals – except ‘Sweeney Todd.'”
“But I’ll see these kids.”
“West Side Story”
Where: Croton Harmon High School, 36 Old Post Road, Croton-on-Hudson.
When: 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday; 3 p.m., Sunday
Tickets: $10; $5 students; free for seniors and children under 8.
With: Josh Brechner, Brian Crowley, Travis Crowley, Kellan Davidson, Adam Weinrib, Dan Kadish, Rachael Goetz, Kamille Perry, Joe Minkler, Max Weinstein, Charles Stahl, Aron Wiegand, Josh Resnick, Tommy Courtney, Katie Farnell, Emma Maclean, Dana Peters, Sarah Dinger, Paris Glickman, Caroline Bannon, Hunter Corbett, Hannon Welch, Andy Sold, Amelia Coccaro, Amy Secunda, Ethan Geringer-Sameth, Emma Lou Degroat, Amanda Smith, Matt Migliorelli, Cassie Samuels, Dara Kagan, Steph Zimea, Elissa Machuca, Michael Mianti, Jake Attias, Morgan Auld, Matt Ost, Quinn Thomas, Max Anderson, Aaron O’Brien, Caroyln Ress, Laura Potel, Allie Ivanoff, Hanna Rosenbaum, Julia LeDee, Steph Habib, Erika Lanzillotto, Adriana Pepjonovic, Kevin Soares, Jake Tuttle, Windy Aldeborgh, Brian Castro, Irene Corvinus, Emily Brandt, Stephanie Leshner, Christine DeFillipis, Kara Fallon, Ethan Chiel, Brittany Duffy, Arora Gill, Carli Geller, Anna Drabek, Dan McManus, Gus Dollinger, Elliot Lustig, Anna Callahan, Abby Reisner, Max Odland, Veronica Maisch, David Schaum, Hannah Rose, Eric King, Nicole Goldberg, Justin Goldsmith, Skuyler Perry, Rebecca Rose, Sylvia Lustig, Kyra Nolte, Hannah Moi, Noa Sager, Greg Haber, Joe Riedel, Joey Soucy, Branon Kovarivic, Matt Skalak