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It’s Sharks vs. Jets at Dana Hills High School’s ‘West Side Story’

South Orange County School of the Arts presents the 1950s-inspired play on April 14, 15, 16, 21, 22 and 23.

South Orange County School of the Arts’ West Side Story premieres at the  Porthole Theater Thursday, April 14, at 7 p.m.

Made into an Oscar-winning movie and Tony-nominated for best Broadway revival in 2009, West Side Story is timeless. Based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and with music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, it takes place in New York City in the mid-1950s amid racial and social tension. The show’s director, Brittany Casey, said, “Over 50 years later the issues presented, racial conflict, hatred and bigotry, are still relevant today.”

It begins as a conflict between two rival gangs—the European-American Jets and the Puerto Rican immigrants, the Sharks—escalates. Wholesome Tony, (Tyler Hartung), a Jet ready to leave his gang life behind, meets Maria (Emma Werdeman), the innocent little sister of Sharks leader Bernardo, and it is love at first sight.

Werdeman, a classically trained opera singer, said her challenge was playing such a girly part. Having grown up with brothers and as a self-described tomboy, she has enjoyed taking her singing and acting in a “whole new direction.” She is used to playing comic roles, such as the drunk and abusive Mrs. Hannigan in Annie, although she did play the lead recently in South Orange County School of the Arts opera, Ahaml and the Night Visitor.

Director Casey has been “blown away” by the level of professionalism of the two leads.

“It helps that they are both good friends,” she said. “The issues in this play are heavy and the challenge for these kids was to find a way to relate their relatively sheltered teen experience in Laguna Niguel 2011 to their characters’ rough city existence in the 1950s.”

Hartung is also a veteran comedian and is the host of SOCSA’s Improv team. The role of Tony, he said, “is a challenging character because he’s vulnerable. It’s so much easier for me to be funny, but Tony experiences a full range of adult emotions. From gang street play to boyish dreams and excitement, experiencing love, and ultimately rage and fear, Tony transforms throughout the play.”

Be prepared to laugh, cry and be entertained, this classic Broadway masterpiece by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim has it all. With award-winning dancer Ramsey Jneid as Riff, SOCSA’s award-winning costume department, huge production numbers and live orchestral accompaniment, you will not be disappointed.

Performances are April 14 to 16 and April 21, 22 and 23 at 7 p.m. at the Porthole Theater at Dana Hills High School. Tickets are $10 for students and senior citizens and $12 for adults and are available at the online at SOCSArts.org or at the door at 6 p.m. the day of the show.

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