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Westfield Students To Present ‘West Side Story’

Students rehearse for the upcoming production of “West Side Story” at Westfield Academy and Central School. Pictured are Cameron Paternosh, Esther Knappenberger, Eldon Scriven and Emma Busuladzic. Submitted photo

WESTFIELD — Many of the students performing in Westfield Academy and Central School’s production of “West Side Story” can personally connect to the plot.

As Director Kent Knappenberger said, “Their own lives and the lives of their families have real-life examples of conflict in regard to ethnicity and race.”

West Side Story will be presented on Friday, March 24, and Saturday, March 25, at 7:30 p.m. in the school auditorium. Knappenberger said there are about 85 students involved in the production, of which about 17 are in middle school.

Knappenberger said he believes that West Side Story is as important to today’s students as it has ever been.

“As our school population becomes more ethnically diverse, I think it takes on a whole new level of relevance,” he said. “We have a first generation American of Indian descent playing a person of Polish descent; our Anita is played by another first generation American of Serbian descent; as well, our students families come from Puerto Rico, Belize, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Peru, Barbados and Brazil.”

Knappenberger believes that West Side Story is an experience that everyone shares in some way.

“I love the fact that it is not just a story with catchy songs, or exciting moments. It is truly a story that I believe we all share,” he said. “It has a timeless element, in spite of being set in the late 1950s. I love how it goes from just putting on a musical to creating a vehicle for change.”

Knappenberger said while it is a difficult show to perform due to the high demands in the acting, singing and dancing, he has a very strong group of people involved in the production. “We have a set designer and builder, choreographer, musicians, costume coordinator, and musical director,” he said. “My brother, Lon Knappenberger, is actually playing the role of Officer Krupke. As well, we have many parents that help behind the scenes.”

Several of the students involved in the production had plenty to say:

¯ Cody Hoffman, who play Riff, said “It’s been a lot of fun, especially stepping out of my comfort zone to do the solo parts. It’s not an easy thing to watch, but it’s important to watch.”

¯ Esther Knappenberger, who plays Maria, said, “I think it’s meant to be challenging, but hopefully takes you to a place where you can learn and experience something to which you might not normally be exposed.”

¯ Paolo Lescano, who plays one of the Sharks, said, “I love the story and being in the cast without my friends, Sharks or Jets — we’re all people. ”

¯ A.J. Figueroa, who also plays one of the Sharks, said “It’s been really fun. I just love the way we’re doing things. It’s a pretty unique story line.”

The West Side Story school edition is based on a conception of Jerome Robbins. Book by Arthur Laurents; Music by Leonard Bernstein and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.

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