Spring break is traditionally vacation time for college students, but this year a dedicated group of Santa Fe College thespians is bucking that trend. From March 2 through March 6, 2015, those performers will be hard at work rehearsing with a Broadway veteran, two professional actors, and the 25-piece Gainesville Orchestra for “West Side Story,” the college’s first production of a Broadway musical. “West Side Story” opens on March 18 for a four-night run.
Bringing a Broadway musical to the stage of the Fine Arts Hall is an initiative of SF College President Jackson Sasser, who first floated the idea to Gainesville Orchestra Conductor Evans Haile and Fine Arts Department Chairperson Alora Haynes.
“The strength of our music and dance programs, our abiding partnerships with distinguished artists on an international scale, and the capabilities of our premier Fine Arts Hall make Santa Fe College ideally suited to showcase this classic American musical,” Sasser explained. “Students and distinguished faculty from our entire Fine Arts Department—people who are nationally recognized for excellence in their fields—have come together with Broadway veteran Evan Pappas, of the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, and our own Gainesville Orchestra, under Master Artist in Residence Evans Haile, for what promises to be a dazzling performance of this time-honored masterpiece.”
“Professional actors and people with Broadway credentials have taught at Santa Fe College throughout the years, but this is the first time we have produced a Broadway musical,” added Fine Arts Department Chairperson Alora Haynes. “In addition to bringing in the Gainesville Orchestra, which we are thrilled to do, we’re drawing on our large assembly of faculty and staff talent for choreography, set design, lighting, wardrobe and stage management. And of course, the highlights are really the talent and professionalism that our students bring to their parts. It takes a village to mount a production like this, and it’s thrilling to watch it come together.”
“Mounting ‘West Side Story’ is a collaborative effort,” Haile agreed. “This is not just a school play—it’s a regional effort that marks the first appearance of the Gainesville Orchestra in a student production at Santa Fe College.”
It was Haile who secured Pappas to direct “West Side Story.” In turn, Pappas arranged for two professional actors, Jimmy Boorum and Charles South, to appear in the leading roles of Tony and Bernardo.
“When I was asked to direct at Santa Fe I answered with an emphatic YES!” Pappas said. “I love ‘West Side Story’ and its music and messages. I love directing at the college level. The young actors are so eager and hungry to learn. This group in particular is already so professional in their behavior and actions, it makes it a joy to go to work.”
Pappas starred in Broadway productions that include “My Favorite Year” and “A Chorus Line” and in London West End productions that include “Sunday With Sondheim.” His directing credits include “7 Brides for 7 Brothers” and “Funny Girl” in San Francisco. He directed the new off-Broadway musical “Liberty” in fall 2014.
“I’m thrilled that Jimmy Boorum and Charles South are coming to play Tony and Bernardo, which will add to the students’ education,” Pappas said. “With their knowledge of the stage and the theatre business, these talented men will up the game and the working experience for the Santa Fe cast. It’s a win-win all around.”
Boorum appeared in the third annual production of “Broadway’s Rising Stars” in New York City and starred in “The Hot L Baltimore” and “Rent” at Blackfriars Theatre in his hometown of Rochester, New York. South played Bernardo in the “West Side Story” International Touring Company and West End productions. His other acting credits include “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Les Miserables,” “Grease,” and “Carousel.”
“Even Broadway doesn’t have this large an orchestra any more,” Pappas said about the Gainesville Orchestra. “What a thrill for the audiences and us to hear this score with a 25-piece orchestra!”
Pappas also praised “the amazing artistry of choreographer Sarah Harkness-Sebastian and the creative team that is producing the most beautiful sets, lighting, costuming, and sound.”
The process of choreographing “West Side Story” demonstrates how working on such a large production expands learning opportunities for the student cast members.
“It has been one of my lifelong goals to choreograph ‘West Side Story,’” SF College Dance Professor Harkness-Sebastian said. “I saw the movie version when I was very young, and Jerome Robbins’ inventive movements made a huge impact on me. I’ve enjoyed finding ways to use my own ideas while incorporating Robbins’ original and iconic concept. Staging the dances teaches our students not only about the process of choreography, but also about the history of what Robbins contributed to the field of dance in musical theatre.”
The student cast is also learning about the cultural roots of Latin dance. “Sara Lopez, one of our Fine Arts Scholarship students, is from Colombia and has a background in professional mambo dance,” Harkness-Sebastian explained. “Sara and I were able to collaborate on the mambo choreography for the ‘Dance at the Gym’ scene. That process was valuable because the students learned mambo dance steps and engaged in a cultural exchange with Sara and her experience in that Latin dance form.”
“This creative opportunity has been personally rewarding, but it has inspired me most to see how valuable the experience has been for our students,” Harkness-Sebastian concluded. “They have been working very hard since September and their dedication and passion are unrelenting! Yes, they have learned dance steps for a performance, but they have also engaged in a much deeper understanding of the cultural and historical background of the field of musical theatre. It’s been exciting to watch them grow and expand their minds in the process.”
The “West Side Story” creative team also includes Robert Fetterman-Ojha as set designer, Elizabeth Reynolds as lighting director, Zack Ryan as wardrobe master and Sarah White as assistant to the director and stage manager.
“This ambitious undertaking underscores the extraordinary educational opportunities available to our students on campus, including working alongside and learning firsthand from performers at some of the country’s most acclaimed arts organizations,” Sasser said. “Similarly, it stands to broaden and enhance community perceptions of Santa Fe as a singular destination for an evening of fine entertainment.”
“West Side Story” runs Wed.-Sat., March 18-21, 2015, with show times at 7:30 p.m. each night and a matinee at 2 p.m. Sat., March 21. All performances take place in the Fine Arts Hall at the Northwest Campus, 3000 NW 83 Street, Gainesville.
Tickets for the performances are $15 for adult orchestra and mezzanine seats; $12 for adult balcony seats; $9 for seniors, children, and University of Florida students and faculty; and free for faculty, staff and students of Santa Fe College. For ticket information, call the Box Office at 352-395-4181. Tickets may be purchased on line at:
Photo opportunities and interviews are available with all members of the “West Side Story” creative team in the weeks before the production’s run at the Fine Arts Hall. For more information or to arrange for a photo shoot or interview, call Alora Haynes at 352-395-5296 (office) or 352-222-0779 (mobile).