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Students tackle ambitious ‘Story’

POULSBO — When students at North Kitsap High School perform “West Side Story” beginning March 7, they will be taking on a tale as old as Shakespeare and as fresh as this evening’s news.

The play is a version of “Romeo and Juliet” set in 1950s New York, with teenagers Tony and Maria falling in love in front of a backdrop of teen violence and gang wars.

“It’s heavy,” said Drama Advisor Sharon Ferguson, who is directing the play. “It’s not a musical comedy, although there’s a happy ending. Hatred is quenched — but only in the face of death.”

The play has a cast of 63 actors, actresses and dancers, as well as 23 orchestra members.

It stars Tony Hawkes as Tony, Victoria Jones as Maria, Myrella Thompson as Anita, Spencer Thomas as Bernardo and Caleb Penn as Riff.

Collin Kelly, who plays the appropriately-named gang member Action (“He’s a firecracker. He always wants to fight.”), said that the play has plenty to offer the audience.

“It’s a cool play,” Kelly said. “It’s got death, fighting, dancing and good music.”

By portraying the spiraling, costly effects of violence, the play actually sends a message of peace, students say — an important message in light of the two suicides that the school has suffered in the last year.

“It’s about bringing peace,” said Jones. “It’s what we need right now.”

The musical tells the story of a native-born Polish gang member and a Puerto Rican girl newly arrived in America. It was written by Leonard Bernstein, with lyrics by a then-unknown Stephen Sondheim.

The story tells of the disastrous consequences when Tony accidentally kills Maria’s brother while trying to break up a street fight.

“I really like the feeling (of the play),” said Hawkes. “It’s Shakespeare, but in another era.”

The production is aided by the elaborate dance numbers, some of which include dancer Jackie Jensen, who said the play is an enjoyable one, both for the participants and for the audience.

“There’s audience participation,” she said, noting that characters move offstage — even crowding up and down the aisles. “And it’s about high school-age characters. You can relate to them.”

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