NORTH KINGSTOWN—Within the darkened auditorium, the only light coming from the stage, over 50 North Kingstown High School students sacrificed their Saturday for a 12-hour day of rehearsals for “West Side Story” last weekend. The classic story of star-crossed lovers came to amazing life during the cue-to-cue light rehearsal, which started at 10 a.m. and lasted until well into the evening hours.
The students have been putting in seven-hour rehearsal days after school since January, according to director Norma Caiazza.
“It’s been so rewarding watching students who might not have had a lot of experience, grow and get better,” she said.
This is the biggest show that Caiazza has undertaken since she started teaching at the high school in 1999.
“It really builds a sense of community because the kids are so close now,” she said.
Tony and Maria, played by seniors Nick Jorgensen and Lindsay Sampson, are also best friends. They met as freshman during an audition of a one-act play called “The Showcase.” Jorgensen, who initially balked at the theatre scene, quickly fell in love with the art. For “West Side Story,” he has reached deep into his imagination to convey his emotions, especially while singing “Maria” and “Something’s Coming.”
The gut-wrenching ending, however, is understandably difficult for these friends to play.
“The ending is tough for both of us,” said Jorgensen. “There’s so much hurt going on.”
“The emotion in this show is so widespread,” Sampson agreed. “It’s just a wonderful musical, and it’s great that we have the resources.”
Rounding out the cast were junior Helena Tafuri as Anita, and senior Troy Crawford as Bernardo. For Tafuri, to play Anita has been a dream since childhood.
“I love the adrenaline rush and just getting to display this thing that we’ve worked months on,” she said. “There’s definitely some awesome people in this show that I didn’t know before.”
Although singing was not Crawford’s strong point at first, he has found a support system within the play’s family.
“I’ve found out I really like singing,” he said. “Everyone’s been very supportive, and I’ve made a lot of new friends.”
But all this could not have been possible without the guidance of Caiazza and assistant director and Drama coach Bob Schaffer, who enjoys “the pure energy” the students put into their craft.
“They have hundreds and hundreds of hours of work on this show,” he said. “They play with fierce intent.”
All afternoon long, as the light cues went scene by scene, the 54 students could barely contain their energy as they stood onstage in groups, socializing while waiting for a cue to be finished, and then springing into action as they acted out a scene with the cues in place. Their camaraderie was palpable, and their energy barely swaying, even after time after time of Schaffer calling out, “Can we hold it for a sec? Please and Thank you.”
“It’s been really long but it’s been effective,” said senior Tyler Greene, who plays Riff. “We’ve gotten a lot of stuff done.”
For senior and lighting director Ben Green, this is the project of his life so far.
“I’m excited,” he said. “I think people will enjoy the show…I’m hoping that people who don’t have very high hopes will come and see the show and be amazed.”
Green, who is hoping to get into the North Carolina School of Arts, undertook the task of lighting director for his senior project and desires to pursue light design as a career.
“He’s an amazing kid,” said Caiazza.
A dinner break, prepared by a parent of one of the students, was welcomed around 5 p.m. For dessert, there was an immense cake, decorated with sharks and jets. After some welcomed down time, the cast and crew were back at it.
“That’s better. Power!” Schaffer called out to the actress playing Anybodys, as they rehearsed the scene of the rumble where Riff and Bernardo are killed.
“West Side Story” will be presented at the high school March 10-12 at 7 pm. Tickets are $10 in advance, $15 at the door and just $10 for students.