More than 80 talented teenagers from across the region are hard at work preparing for The Performing Arts School (PAS) at bergenPAC’s summer musical, West Side Story, which will be presented Friday, Aug. 4 and Saturday, Aug. 5 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Aug. 6 at 3 p.m. on bergenPAC’s main stage.
The production is directed by Alexander Diaz with music direction by Glenn Gordon and choreography by Rebecca Sonia.
The classic story about Tony and Maria, the iconic and idealistic lovers caught between competing communities, receives a contemporary reimagining in this production.
“Instead of dressing like the 1950s, the costumes are more modern,” says Ilana Lupkin, a PAS alumni who just finished her first year at Barnard College and is back to help with costume design.
The Sharks, a Puerto Rican gang in the Broadway and film version, are now comprised of immigrants from different countries.  
“It’s exciting that there’s this modern twist to what we’re doing, and it’s very timely,” Lupkin says.
Sonia, who has performed this show professionally, is looking forward to now helping the students with their version.
“West Side Story is one of the most famous musicals of all time, and being able to tell this story is an honor. The Summer Musicals here at the Performing Arts School are always professional, not-to-miss productions that provide excellent training and experience to any student serious about pursuing theatre,” Sonia says. “It is a program I wish I had when I was preparing for college, and this summer in particular will be a wonderful challenge to our incredibly talented cast.”
One of the cast members interested in pursuing a musical theater majoring in college is Damon Vincenty, a rising senior at Westwood Regional High School.
“The musical helps me further my experience with theater and get better,” says Vincenty, who will perform as “Big Deal” and the understudy for Tony. “I’ve really improved my acting and singing, and I owe where I am now to [last summer’s musical] Les Mis.”
Vincenty also performs in his high school’s productions and will intern at PAS in the Fall, where he’ll help the Education Outreach Manger build programs and get a feel for the day-to-day operations at an arts organization.
The musical is also a family affair for Damon, as his younger brother Michael is working on the show as an assistant stage manager.
“We started working together in high school productions. He started as an assistant stage manager and has been stage manager since then,” Vincenty says. “I’ve seen him grow so much from where he started with that.”
Part of the appeal of being involved with the PAS musical is that it’s a regional theater, which is a really exciting way to spend the summer with other people passionate about theater, says Rachael Chau, who starred as Eponine in last year’s production of Les Mis. She now studies drama at New York University and returned this summer to serve as the assistant director.
“Last year it felt like we were a family. I wasn’t sure if that would happen again, but it really did,” Chau, a graduated of the Bergen County Academies, says. “They create a great environment here.”
Chau said PAS chooses shows that might be considered “challenging or ambitious for young actors – but they’re not afraid of taking on this material.”
Another thing that stood out in her two previous productions was the rigorous rehearsal schedule, which gave her confidence upon entering NYU’s theater program.
“It felt like a professional schedule and made me say, ‘I’m like a working actor now,’” she says. “I was exhausted at the end of the day, but I loved the work and the whole experience.”
Theater lovers won’t want to miss what this year’s cast and crew are putting together.
“This production of West Side Story will feature the best young talent from all over New Jersey. The storytelling will be unique and emphasize on the themes of the show: love, compassion, acceptance and finding common ground,” says Alexander Diaz, Creative Director at PAS. “The production will be sure to provoke thought and enhance imagination. Dancing and singing with this gorgeous music, these students will give you a musical memory to last a lifetime.”
Cast by character and hometown:
Tony – Joshua Zonenashvilli, Paramus; Understudy – Damon Vincenty, Westwood; Maria – Rachel Zegler, Clifton; Understudy –  Sarah Bartoszek, Hoboken; Anita – Gianna Grosso, Park Ridge; Understudy – Morgan Sherlock, Rutherford; Riff – Joe Baez, Ridgefield Park; Understudy – Jason Edelstein, Paramus; Bernardo – Gabe Borges, Cliffside Park; Rosalia – Brenda Amaya, West New York; Consuelo – Haley Karlich, Paramus; Francisca – Riley Sylvester, Carlstadt; Estella – Kacie Broadfield, Totowa; Margarita & Dance captain – Samantha Camizzi, Bergenfield; Action – Elmer Cruz, Fairview; Understudy – Chad Marge, Haworth; Baby John – Gabe Lee,  Closter; Understudy – Nicholas Gallucci, Paramus; Diesel – Matthew Rella, Englewood/Hasbrouck Heights; Understudy – Christopher Marzulla,  Park Ridge; A-Rab & Dance Captain – Nicholas Halecki, Secaucus; Big Deal – Damon Vincenty, Westwood; Snow Boy – Ethan Rokjer, Cresskill; Anybody’s – Isabella Scanlan, Rutherford; Graziella – Adrianna Dipple, Demarest; Minnie – Gabriella Marinich, Closter; Clarice – Irene Lourbas, Demarest;
Pauline – Jenna Gallagher, Paramus; Chino – Kyle Castillo, Fair Lawn; Krupke – Cory Benson, Paramus; Shrank – Mo Muhsin, Westwood; Gladhand – Adam Halecki, Secaucus; Doc – Sheldon Barnes, Englewood

About bergenPAC

Founded in 2003, the 1,367-seat Bergen Performing Arts Center, or bergenPAC, is the area’s cultural mecca. Housed in a historic Art Deco-style theater boasting one of the finest acoustic halls in the United States, bergenPAC attracts a stellar roster of world-class entertainment. The jewel in our crown is The Performing Arts School at bergenPAC – the innovative, educational performing arts initiative that, through programs, classes, outreach, school shows, and main theater presented shows, reach more than 30,000 students and community youth annually. The Performing Arts School provides community youth, age 2 months to 21 years, with unique, “hands-on” training in music, dance and theater by industry professionals. It is through the ongoing generosity of sponsors, donors, members, and patrons that the not-for-profit 501 (c)(3) corporation bergenPAC and The Performing Arts School are able to thrive and enrich our community.
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