For Fargo North High, this fall’s musical is something of a first. At least in the last eight years.
In selecting “West Side Story” for the stage this fall, it’s the first “dance-heavy” show the high school has had since 2006’s “Pippin.” Director Tom Gillen thought it was time to do such a show, mainly because the right mix of boys was on hand, but also for another reason.
“I heard that we’d started to get a reputation around town as the high school that doesn’t do dance shows. We had to break that,” he said.
Inspired by “Romeo and Juliet,” “West Side Story” finds two warring gangs at odds in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen. The Sharks and Jets are as bitter as the Montagues and Capulets, but Tony (a Jet) and Maria (a Shark) fall in love, and boom—we’ve got the groundwork of the plot of “West Side Story.”
Over 70 students construct the cast, crew and pit of North’s musical, with 39 in the cast. This is a little bit of a bigger show for the high school, and with the choreography involved, a couple of pros have been tapped to help out.
North alum David Triptow and Red River dance instructor Haylee Thompson stepped in to guide the students through the show’s choreography, an aspect that much of the cast has enjoyed with the triple threat of acting, singing and dancing.
“They’ve really done well. We have sacrificed singing time, not quality,” Gillen said of the students, adding, “They have not complained, they come here every day for fun and I think they just like working with the directing team. This is exciting for them to do a classic like this that has such great music and powerful dancing.”
One side note about the show’s music is that “West Side Story” is dedicated to Dan Italiano, longtime orchestra instructor and pit leader at Fargo North. Italiano was unable to conduct this year’s musical due to a health-related matter.
“We want to give him one more good show here,” Gillen said of the dedication.
“West Side Story” is also a musical that brings some social relevance to the table with its themes of juvenile delinquency and other social problems.
This is something else that the folks behind Fargo North’s “West Side Story” want to bring to light: that “we’re all people,” as Gillen put it.
“Last year there was an issue where The Forum had some stories about some people who broke the law, and then all of a sudden, we heard on the news, well, they’re all the same color,” he said.
“And we noticed that everyone on the front page is the same color, and we’re trying to look at this story and go, ‘This stuff is happening now.’ Immigration in Fargo’s a big issue, and we want to share that with the audience, that we’re all coming from different backgrounds, and it’s not a color issue at all. We’re all people.”
“West Side Story”
Fargo North High’s Spartan Auditorium
7:30 p.m. Thur-Sat, 2 p.m. Sun
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