Harrison Grad’s Production Company Performing West Side Story This Weekend
By RJ Walters
Photos courtesy of Dave Pappas Creative Studio
When Harrison School for the Arts alum Alessandra Stillinger started hearing locals suggest her production company put on the 1957 classic “West Side Story” she didn’t have to be convinced at all.
“I’m Puerto Rican, Cuban and Sicilian, and I’m from New York, so any story that keeps me in New York I’m thrilled with, you know?” the founder of With Love Productions, Inc. (WLP) said on Thursday just hours before the official preview show.
Stillinger’s personal affinity for the show, plus the way locals responded in 2022 to WLP’s production of “In the Heights”—another Latin coming-of-age story based in New York—made “West Side Story” the perfect summertime performance for a growing Hispanic audience in Polk County that clearly enjoys theatre, too.
The show is being directed by Rochelle School of the Arts teacher Jeff Luty, with choreography by Freddie DeJesus and musical direction by Tony Mercer. Tickets are available for four shows at Harrison from Friday evening through Sunday’s matinee performance.
“This cast, oh my gosh, this cast, like, let me tell you… these actors, these kids, these young adults, there’s so much talent in the room. I feel so honored to be in the presence of so much talent.” – Alessandra Stillinger
“West Side Story” is a Golden Age musical originally directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins that takes viewers on a Romeo and Juliet inspired journey into a forbidden love story of characters from two rival gangs, and its iconic emotional ballads force the audience to explore the shadowy corners of the cost of this love.
The cast ranges from current high school students—including the leads “Maria” and “Tony” played by Harrison School for the Arts students Isabel Casasnovas-Martino and Xander Allen—to cast members who are parents to high schoolers. Stillinger’s passion for the artists comes out when asked about what is most satisfying about this rendition of the musical.
“This cast, oh my gosh, this cast, like, let me tell you… these actors, these kids, these young adults, there’s so much talent in the room. I feel so honored to be in the presence of so much talent.”
She said she couldn’t make it through rehearsals of the classic song “A Boy Like That/I Have a Love” performed by Vanessa Canizares and Casasnovas-Martino without tearing up.
While this iteration of West Side Story will be true to the timeless narrative, it will also offer some distinctive touches.
“We’re doing it in such a, not typical way. If you would’ve seen the Broadway revival of it, they had the Jets…they dubbed it like an American gang, but was it not more of a white gang? You know what I’m saying?” she said. “So our Jets, like half of them are people of color. I’m all about being diverse and inclusive and I want everyone to be able to be involved.”