West Side Story director Joshua Bergasse was interviewed by Robert McDowell of Classical Voice of North Carolina. Read below to see his take on the show!
1. When did you first see or read or hear about this show? Have you ever worked on a previous production of this show? If so, when and where?
The movie WEST SIDE STORY was one of my favorites growing up. My first experience with the stage version was performing in a community theatre production as a teenager. Since then I have worked on eight productions of WSS, either as actor, associate director/choreographer, or choreographer.
2. What do you like BEST about this show? What made you WANT to direct it?
I love the perfect marriage of the score, libretto and the choreography in WSS. These three mediums are interwoven masterfully throughout the show to tell the story.
3. Briefly summarize the PLOT of this show in your own words. Please explain the SITUATION at the start of the show and how the various CHARACTERS fit in. (In your summary, please indicate the ACTOR’S NAME in parentheses following the character’s name.)
It is Shakespeare’s ROMEO AND JULIET set in 1950‘s New York City. At the start of the show we see two street gangs fighting for “turf”; The ‘white’ Jets led by Riff (Leo Ash Evens), and the Puerto Rican Sharks led by Bernardo (Freddy Ramirez). Tony (Josh Young), one of the Jets, falls in love with Maria (Catherine Cheng Jones), Bernardo’s sister. Maria is able to conceal the affair for a short time with the help of Bernardo’s girl, Anita (Asmeret Ghebremicheal), but ultimately the gang rivalry sets a series of tragic events in motion.
4. What MAJOR CHALLENGES does staging this show present to you as a director -- and to your cast and creative team?
One of the main challenges of staging WSS is the size of some of the dance sequences such as the ‘Prologue,’ ‘The Dance at the Gym’ and the 2nd Act ‘Ballet.’ Another challenge for the cast is the extrememly small “book” of the piece. The cast must search within aspects of the piece other than the script to help develop their characters.
5. Please describe the SET:
The set is based on the original 1957 Tony award winning production designs by Oliver Smith. It is inspired by New York City architecture of the 1950’s and in some cases is used in an abstract way and in other cases quite literally.
6. Please describe the LIGHTING:
The lighting for WSS ranges from stark and moody with shadows and texture in the ‘Rumble’ - to bright, sunny and warm in the ‘Ballet.’ The dance sequences are saturated with color from angles other than the front.
7. Please describe the COSTUMES:
The costumes are based on the original 1957 Tony award nominated production designs by Irene Sharaff. The inspiration comes from the styles of the 1950’s lower class New York City streets and with a good amount of Latino influence for the Sharks. The costumes are also designed to help us differentiate the Jets who are in blues, yellow and oranges - from the Sharks who are in reds, lavenders and Black.
8. Is there ANYTHING ELSE about this show -- or your production -- that it is important for the audience to know ahead of time? If so, what?
I think the most important thing about WSS is that it is still relevant today, 52 yrs after it originally open on Broadway. We’re still dealing with teen violence, we’re still dealing with street gangs terrorizing not only our inner cities, but our suburbs as well, and we’re still dealing with racism and bigotry. It’s a story that still needs to be told with lessons that still need to be learned.