Tonight the dynamic, genre-redefining 1957 musical West Side Story opens at Friends. Music by Leonard Bernstein, conception and choreography by Jerome Robbins, book by Arthur Laurents, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, the show is inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Michael McVey, Friends longstanding choral director, has always loved the complex production and dreamed of staging it someday. He played Tony in both college and grad school. But he’d vowed never to attempt the song-dance-script-intense show of warring New York gangs at Friends School. Then he considered this year’s senior class, a group packed with stronger performance chops combined than McVey’s ever seen charge a single auditorium. The show runs Friday through Sunday.
Friends is famous for having a stellar music department. Why were you super hesitant to attempt WSS?
Never say never. But I said I would never do West Side Story because it was too big a challenge for high school kids to handle. The male dancing alone – it’s not enough to have a couple of strong dancers, you have to have tons. The singing roles are very mature for kids. The orchestra parts are very hard for kids – and adults. Our rehearsal schedule is bare bones; we don’t rehearse forever as some other schools do. We don’t rehearse after school, in order to include athletes. We rehearse Saturdays. Other area schools do 6-10 p.m. nightly for two weeks before it opens. We did Monday and Wednesday night this week. Earlier, we rehearsed Saturdays; three rehearsal groups, doing music, choreography and staging, all happened at once. Then we used the regular 40-minute concert chorale period in the school day, [but only] after our spring concert…
What is so special about this particular group? Will they go on to pursue performance professionally?
I have 16 seniors in the musical, 55 kids total. The seniors have been major players in our theater, musical theater, and music programs since they were freshmen. They’re just a special group of kids who have this intense interest in performing, singing, playing instruments; they do it all. There are some uniquely talented kids in this class. I have never seen this many in one class. I’m already in mourning for next year.