City Circle Acting Company to perform West Side Story

BY KATIE HEINE | JUNE 16, 2011 7:20 AM

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A brawl broke out among a dozen teenage boys last week. Punches were thrown, switch blades were pulled — yet not a drop of blood hit the ground. Just three minutes later, the boys busted out a song-and dance-number.

The young men, dressed in cargo shorts and T-shirts, were rehearsing last week for the City Circle Acting Company’s upcoming performance of the popular and well-known 1957 Broadway musical West Side Story.

The cast will perform the musical at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and at 2 p.m. June 19 in the Englert Theatre, 221 E. Washington St. Admission ranges from $10 to $20.

West Side Story is a modern musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. And though the story touches upon such social issues as violence and bigotry, the young cast will perform the play in its entirety — brawls and all.

“It forces us to push our boundaries,” said actor Taylor Troyer. “But that’s what makes for an interesting show.”

Seventeen-year-old Troyer plays Maria, a Puerto Rican teenager in New York City who falls for a boy she’s forbidden to love.

Troyer has been performing with City Circle for four years, and this is her first leading role with the company. She said she was initially intimidated about performing in such an “intense” show, but those feelings quickly diminished after she began rehearsing two months ago.

“It wasn’t as hard as I thought,” said Troyer. “You get attached to your character, and it all comes together.”

Tyler Jensen, 16, plays opposite Troyer as Maria’s forbidden love interest, Tony. Tony, an ex-member of the white, working-class gang that is continually at odds with the newly formed Puerto Rican gang, falls for Maria at a dance.

The story is full of tension, love, and sophistication, and the cast capitalizes on each element.

“We’ve got a pretty rock-star crew,” Jensen said. “Sometimes I think, ‘This is Iowa — there shouldn’t be this much talent here.’ ”

Nearly 30 junior-high and high-school students are in the cast of West Side Story, and they spent weeks learning the song lyrics and choreography for the show, which will be accompanied by a 30-piece orchestra at the Englert this weekend.

Only three adult roles were cast, which makes for an “age-appropriate” show, said Michael Stokes, the director of the production. Stokes, who has been directing for more than 40 years, said he’s been “waiting” for the chance to direct West Side Story.

“It’s one we have talked about doing for years,” he said. “But it’s a really hard show.”

But Stokes said he was confident with his cast, especially with the dancing abilities of the young men, which he said was “essential” for the performance.

“I’m continually amazed by the talent level in this town,” he said.

The rehearsal dance scene ended. The teenage actors cheered, clapped, and laughed. They were ready — it was only one week until show time.

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