Playhouse stages its most-requested musical
When Flat Rock Playhouse stages a month-long run of West Side Story this month, locals may recognize some familiar faces. “Three dancers who studied at Pat’s School of Dance in Hendersonville have been cast in the show, as well as one of their current students,” says Flat Rock’s Artistic Associate Matthew Glover, who also came from the program. “We love having local talent and giving back to the community that nurtured them.”
Brandon Keith Rogers and Marilyn Caserta portray the star-crossed, tragically fated lovers Tony and Maria at the heart of one of America’s most enduring musicals. Conceived by Jerome Robbins, West Side Story transports Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to the gritty streets of New York’s 1950s Upper West Side, pitting the teenaged white Jets against the Puerto Rican Sharks.
Rogers and Caserta are new to Flat Rock but known to Glover and Producing Artistic Director Lisa K. Bryant, who first conducted auditions for the show when it was planned the 2020 season. The musical –- with score by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim — is always one of the most requested by Playhouse patrons, and had been staged only once before, in the late 1990s.
“It is a beast of a show, a very large show,” Glover explains. “The 2020 production was going to be ginormous.”
That season and the 2021 season were both cancelled; two years later, they began again, albeit with a bit of an advantage. “We honored every person who was cast for the 2020 show and re-offered them their roles. We are very happy our original Tony and Maria are back,” says Glover. Additionally, fan favorite Scott Treadway assumes the role of Doc, and several Asheville actors are in the 26-member cast.
Glover notes that the Playhouse is part of the Actors Equity union and works within their policies, as well as the casting directives set by the show itself. “West Side Story is very specific when it comes to casting the Latino roles and representing the Latinx population.”
The timing is tight, especially for a show of this magnitude. Rehearsals began June 10 and run 10am to 6pm daily Tuesday through Sunday.
All the sets, built with lots of steel and chain-link fence, are new, as are the costumes. “There is an eight-minute ballet in the second act, so I work very closely with the costume manager to be sure the dancers can move freely,” says Glover. The score will be performed by live musicians.
While the Flat Rock Playhouse production of West Side Story was paused for two years, the latest film version, directed by Steven Spielberg, was filmed in 2019 and released in 2021.
Glover says he and Bryant saw it — but it was the passage of time and real-life events that influenced their own interpretation.
“Our concept in 2020 was so different from where we ended up today, he says. “Originally, we thought about taking the show completely contemporary and setting it now — but with everything that has happened in the past couple years, we decided to tell the true authentic, original story and not change it. At Flat Rock Playhouse, we pride ourselves on creating our own visions and stories. This will be ours.”
West Side Story runs July 1-30 on the Leiman Mainstage of Flat Rock Playhouse (2661 Greenville Hwy., Flat Rock). For dates, times, and ticket information, call 828-693-0731 or see flatrockplayhouse.org.