On the evening of June 17, there will be a rumble and romance at the Tillie Lewis Theater at San Joaquin Delta College.
The Lodi Musical Theater will bring audiences back to 1958 this month with its production of “West Side Story,” the classic tale of two people who fall in love in the midst of a bitter rivalry between two central New York gangs. This is the first time the play has been performed by the company since 2009, and this year’s lead cast – Jeffry Jackson and Genesis Robledo, of Turlock and Merced, respectively – are making their first appearances for LMT, as well as in “West Side Story. “
“Being Tony is a big responsibility, but I’m really excited,” Jackson said. “I know the show is really sensitive. I really want the audience to feel bad and fall in love with me. He’s interesting because he’s really not a good guy, but he’s trying to get over his gang life.
Primarily a pianist who sits in the stands during a production, Jackson began performing in community theater about two years ago. His older brother was an actor and Jackson said it sounded like fun, so he stepped away from the ivories and gave it a try.
After seeing the audition notice for the show earlier this year, he decided to give it a try and called his friend and costar Robledo to encourage him to join him.
“I’m really excited,” Robledo said. “It’s a dream role for me. I knew ‘West Side Story’ before I even loved musical theater, so even being Maria is a huge dream come true. I saw the show and the movie, it’s the first show I really liked before I joined the musical theater.
Premiered on Broadway in 1957, the play is based on “Romeo and Juliet” by William Shakespeare, with Tony of the Jets playing Romeo and Maria of the Sharks adapting the role of Juliet.
The play also shows the conflict between two ethnic groups – the Jets are white and the Sharks are Puerto Rican – who hate each other on the basis of prejudice and misunderstanding.
“It’s great, really exciting,” Robledo said of getting a lead role. “It’s better than I imagined. The cast is so amazing, and it makes it 10 times better. It’s such a good show with everyone.
Jackson said the cast of 50 is very diverse and has grown very close over the past few weeks during rehearsals.
He said Tony of the Jets was one of his dream roles as well.
“It’s an interesting dynamic because generally the characters are written in two dimensions, either he’s the good guy or he’s the bad guy,” he said. “But Tony is a bit of both. He’s a kid in bad circumstances. He’s a bit of both.
Another first casting has been made possible for Stockton native Rachel Carey, who will play Rosalia, a shark who longs to return to Puerto Rico.
A longtime dancer, Carey has performed with Stockton Civic Theater and LMT, primarily in ensembles. His first production with LMT was in Les Misérables about 10 years ago.
When she auditioned for “West Side Story” this year, she was shocked to learn that she would dance, sing and talk. Rosalia opens the song “America” in the room.
“I am ecstatic. When I tried I thought I was just going to be a dancer, ”she said. “I sing, I have a lot of singing experience. But when I tried I just thought I would be a Shark girl. I didn’t even audition for Rosalia.
Landing the role made Carey both excited and nervous. She said she wasn’t too familiar with “West Side Story” when she auditioned, having only seen the 1961 film starring Natalie Wood as Maria and Richard Beymer as Tony.
Rosalia’s role is not included in the film, so Carey said she watched five different theatrical productions of the play in a row on YouTube for research purposes.
Perhaps another first for the production is a gender reassignment for one of the main characters.
Tokay High School assistant principal Kathleen Whisler will play Doc, the owner of the local soda store who is also a hangout for the Jets, and who is traditionally a male.
“I think it’s a little different (playing a man like a woman),” she said. “I can play on my experiences having worked with teenagers for almost 30 years now. “’I have worked with gang members. I mourned the deaths of gang members. So I can just draw on personal experiences for some of these scenes.
One of the most critical scenes in which Doc is featured in an attempted assault on a female shark. Whisler said that as the female representative of Doc, she just wanted to bend over and hold the victim in her arms. However, the young girl must rely on her own strength to escape the brutality of the Jets.
This will be Whisler’s fifth performance with LMT. She starred in “Les Misérables” in 2013, “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” in 2015, “Hairspray” in 2016 and “Mamma Mia! in 2019.
Like Carey, Whisler said she was familiar with the plot of “West Side Story”, having seen the film. But she never got to see the play on stage.
Galt resident Eric Fowler is no stranger to the LMT scene either, having been involved with director Nicole Howton’s Troupe Cabana studios at a young age.
Playing the role of the Jets’ gee-tar, Fowler said it had been difficult for him and his male colleagues to act out scenes involving derogatory comments or violence against the Sharks.
One in particular was the attempted assault on Doc’s store.
“It took us a long time to finish this scene,” he said. “Nicole kept telling us, ‘you have to be more aggressive. Don’t worry about hurting her, she’s fine. It doesn’t feel good, but it’s an important scene and we’re doing our best.
One of Fowler’s favorite performances was “Emerald City,” a play written by his father when he was in high school. The production was based on “The Wizard of Oz”, but was set in Galt. A dream role would be any character in “Newsies,” and his favorite actor is Christoph Waltz, although he has said his acting skills cannot compare.
One of the things Fowler appreciates about this production of “West Side Story” was Howton’s decision to change Doc from male to female, as it changes the dynamic between adult and teenager.
“It’s really cool,” he said. “It adds a whole new element because Doc is respected by the Jets. It’s really cool to see a woman in this position of power, and we respect her so much. She has a lot of control over us, she’s like our boss.
The West Side Story hours are at 7:00 p.m. June 17-19 and June 24-26; 1 p.m. on June 19 and 26; and 4 p.m. on June 20 and 27.
Tickets cost $ 25 for general admission, $ 18 for seniors and students. COVID-19 guidelines will be followed and children under 6 will not be allowed in the theater.