Fairmont Area students are performing "West Side Story" this week, a serious turn from the musical comedy typically chosen for their first show of the year.
West Side Story, a Broadway musical set in the 1950s, retells Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," trading in the Capulets and Montagues for the street gangs the Jets and the Sharks.
"It is a more serious and emotional production," said student actress Caitlin Parsley. "We have to work as a whole - cast, pit and crew - to leave our audience with a lasting impact."
Courtney Guetter, Nick Johnson, Grant Becker, Bailey Koppen and Caitlin Parsley appear in Fairmont Area High School’s production of “West Side Story.” Show times are 7:30 p.m. today, Thursday and Friday at the Performing Arts Center at the high school.
For those who have seen the movie version of the show, director Cliff Janke said Fairmont's offering is similar, although there is one major musical change.
Janke also said that due to the themes, he is not recommending the show to elementary students. Parsley compares the content to a PG-13 movie.
The storyline pits the Jets and Sharks - rival gangs, one representing second-generation Polish men and the other Puerto Rican immigrants - in a battle in which a member from each gang falls in love.
"They act real tough and big," Janke said, "but they are young - 15, 16 years old. That is why when they start killing each other it gets out of hand so quickly. They never intended to kill anyone."
Another scene in the musical, sometimes played as a "rape scene" is toned down to a scene of taunting and aggressiveness, but stopping short of anything else.
"There is a lot of innuendo and it is real serious," Janke said. "But it is good for [the students] to do a more serious show."
"I would have to say the most difficult part is doing the show to the degree it deserves to be done," Parsley said.
The cast of 53 students had to perfect much more dancing than for a typical show, as West Side Story is known for it choreography.
Janke said the students have enjoyed the change of pace, and are keeping up quite well with the dancing.
"This show has been more challenging from past productions in many ways," Parsley said. "The music is very difficult and requires a lot of practice. I also had to work on having an accent for this show. ... I am so proud to be a part of this amazing show. I encourage everyone to take time out of your busy schedules to see West Side Story. You will not regret it."
Show times are 7:30 p.m. today, Thursday and Friday, with a matinee performance for senior citizens 12:30 p.m. Wednesday. All performances are at the Performing Arts Center at Fairmont Area High School.
Tickets are $7 for adults, $5 for students. Students with Fairmont ID badges get in free.