For years, people have asked Spring Valley director-choreographer Stacey Tirro when she was going to do “West Side Story.”
The dance teacher had an answer.
“I would tell them ‘Never. It’s never going to happen. I don’t see the cast. I don’t see us being able to do the music. I’m not seeing it,'” she said.
But after last year’s production of “In the Heights,” which drew new kids to the Thespian Troupe and created a hunger for big, challenging shows, Tirro changed her mind.
“After that show, I saw it. And I saw it clearly,” she said. “I decided ‘If we’re ever going to do it, this is going to be the year.’ ”
She has two seniors in key roles: Elijah Fremont as Tony and Manuel Piedra (a Metro Award nominee last year for “In the Heights”) as Riff. Juniors Brianna Knight and Abner Castillo are Anita and Bernardo; and sophomore Alexis Key is Maria.
Fremont said he understands why Tirro waited.
“There are musicals and then there’s ‘West Side Story,'” he said. “When we decided to do it last summer, it was foreign to me. I had never seen it. But then I saw it and I was aware right away. One of the things that’s most important to me is that we’re able to do it justice. I don’t want to just be another Tony. I want to be the Tony.”
Tirro resisted the urge to separate the casts – Sharks and Jets – by race. The script by Arthur Laurents has them as Puerto Ricans and whites. Tirro has mixed up the races and will have her costumes – and the actors’ portrayals – differentiate Jets and Sharks.
The director said she worried if her choice would work.
Then she recalled a conversation after “In the Heights” last year, with a Spring Valley English teacher who had seen Lin-Manuel Miranda’s show on Broadway.
“He said: ‘I know not all these kids are Dominican, or Hispanic, but as soon as the lights went up and they started playing, I forgot about all that,’ ” Tirro recalled.
“I feel like that’s what we bring to the community. They’re not looking at what they look like. You’re looking at who they are and what they’re doing and what they’re accomplishing. And when you can forget about an obvious discrepancy like that and you can just get into the story and get into these characters and just immerse yourself in this cathartic experience, that’s when you know you did the right thing.”
“West Side Story”—7:30 p.m., March 26, 27, 28—$10 advance, $15 at door—845-577-6544.
Here’s the Running Lines video I shot at Spring Valley, with a photo gallery by Peter Carr. Enjoy!