On a recent Saturday afternoon, the Jets were on the move and on the lookout for the Sharks. They were ready to rumble. As they waited, they worked hard on some of their moves. Of course, one of the moves they were working on was named twinkle toes, not a standing back-kick. The Jets we’re talking about are the cast of upcoming production of West Side Story at the Cape Fear Regional Theatre.
    The majority of The Jets are young, local actors. The training they are getting for this play rivals the training that dancers get on Broadway. That’s because the director/choreographer, Robert Bianca, and the assistant director/choreographer, Mary MacLeod, believe that’s the only way to get ready for a production like West Side Story.
Both Bianca and MacLeod are veteran Broadway performers. MacLeod was on stage at the CFRT in the production of Chicago. This is Bianca’s first trip to the area. How they got here makes an interesting story.
    When Bo Thorp, the CFRT’s artistic director, decided to add West Side Story to the season lineup, Dirk Lombard told her she had to talk to MacLeod because she “knew everyone who dances.” Thorp gave MacLeod a call just before Christmas to see if she could give her some advice.
    {mosimage}MacLeod immediately recommended Bianca, with one caveat. “Bo wanted to do the play with its original choreography. I told her ‘I know him well enough if you’re interested, but he’s not going to want to do the original.’ So she talked to him and they hit it off great. I didn’t think I would be involved, but Bobby wanted me to work with him, so I was glad to come.”
    Bianca said when he first talked to Thorp, she explained that many people wanted her to do the original version, but once he explained his ideas, she was on board. He noted that the dancers in the original production all had classical training and that to try and impose that kind of strict dancing on local actors who do not have that kind of training would be “forced and not effective.”
    He added that the local dancers had an “incredible spirit, energy and talent.”
    “Even though we aren’t doing the original choreography, the feeling and respect for the original ideas is intact,” he said.
    Along with Bianca and MacLeod, the CFRT has also brought two young actors from New York to play the leading roles of Maria and Tony. Jen Anaya, an Arizona native, moved to New York several years ago and began auditioning for regional and local plays. This will be her first time performing in West Side Story, but she noted that playing Maria has always been a “dream role” for her.
    That feeling is shared by Jeremy Janet, who will be playing Tony. Janet was raised in a small town outside of Green Bay, Wisc. He moved to New York four years ago and has been doing regional theater.
    “I remember seeing the movie musical when I was 11- or 12-years-old,” said Janet. “It was one of those New Year’s Eve sing-alongs, and I remember thinking to myself, ‘I could do that.’”
    Rehearsals have been going on since the beginning of January, and Bianca admits it has been grinding. He said rehearsals have been very demanding and intense in order to bring out the raw emotion needed for the production.
    “There is no slickness to this play. Raw emotion is the point of the show and these kids are great for that. When they dig deep and they hit it, it’s inspiring. It’s effective because it’s real,” said Bianca.
    West Side Story opens at the CFRT on Friday, Jan. 23, with a preview performance at 8:15 p.m. Tickets are $15. The Champagne Opening is on Saturday, Jan. 24. Tickets are $28. The play runs through Feb. 8. For reservations, call the CFRT Box Office at 323-4233.

Contact Janice Burton at editor@upandcomingweekly.com 

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