BY HILLARY VIDERS
SPECIAL TO NORTHERN VALLEY PRESS
ENGLEWOOD–The Performing Arts School at bergenPAC recently scored another blockbuster hit with their production of “West Side Story,” a modern day rendition of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” which tells the tale of two star-crossed lovers caught up in the prejudice and hatred of warring street gangs in New York City.
Now in its seventh year, The Performing Arts School at bergenPAC’s Summer Musical Program continues to cultivate rising stars. The production of “West Side Story” had a cast of 79 students, ranging in age from 13-19, and a nine-piece orchestra. The dance numbers, singing, acting and music were all first rate.
Rachel Zegler as Maria and Joshua Zonenashvilli as Tony lit up the stage with their dramatic flair and powerful voices. Equally impressive were performances by other lead actors, including Kyle Castillo (Chino), Gabe Borges (Bernardo) and Gianna Grosso (Anita) and the entire supporting cast.
Although “West Side Story” debuted in 1957, its theme of racial conflict is still timely, and it resonated with people of all ages.
“I thought this show was absolutely terrific, and it speaks to young people today,” said an elderly lady.
Maria Castronova and Lorraine Milunaitis, supervisors from the Nutley Board of Education Extended Day Program, brought a busload of their young campers to see the show and these youngsters also loved it.
“The dresses were so pretty, and I liked the singing,” said a 12- year-old camper.
Possibly the people who enjoyed the show the most were the performers. The training that they underwent to prepare for the production not only furthered their knowledge and expertise in theater, but enhanced their dedication to teamwork.
After the production, cast members spoke with admiration about their fellow performers. Riley Sylvester said, “Everybody here is equal. No matter what gender, race or background anyone is, we loved working together on this production.” Nick Gallucci agreed: “In this program, it didn’t matter who you are or what you do. We all came together to make something amazing like this.”
Kyle Castillo, another young actor in the production, remarked, “It takes more than one person to do a show. This production emphasized teamwork, and that is one of the most powerful things you can have.”
“Teamwork is, indeed, a focal point of The Performing Arts School at bergenPAC, a mecca for innovative, educational performing arts programs that reaches more than 30,000 students annually,” the organization’s website states.
“The Performing Arts School at bergenPAC provides community youth, age 3 months to 21 years, with unique “hands on” training in music, dance and theater by industry professionals. Students at The Performing Arts School at bergenPAC have the opportunity to develop real world experience and enhance their academic achievements. On occasion, they perform with professional performers who are appearing at the bergenPAC.”
Kellie Rabke, a member of the bergenPAC’s board of trustees and executive committee recently said, “In the classes at The Performing Arts School at bergenPAC, children and young adults don’t just learn music and dance. They learn discipline, team work and responsibility – an ethic that will guide them throughout their lives.”
The Performing Arts School at bergenPAC has a state of the art facility at 1 Depot Square in Englewood as well as initiatives off-site through its Partnership Program with 65 school districts throughout Bergen County.
The Performing Arts School at bergenPAC also offers scholarships to students of families with financial needs. Since its inception, The Performing Arts School Scholarship Program has awarded more than $250,000.
Through the ongoing generosity of sponsors, donors and patrons, the not-for-profit 501(C)3 corporation bergenPAC, of which The Performing Arts School is a large part, is able to thrive and enrich the community.
Because of this funding, a number of the school’s programs, such as the Summer Musical Program, are tuition free, allowing talented individuals from all over the state to attend.
Alexander Diaz, artistic director of arts education and outreach at bergenPAC, said he is extremely proud of The Performing Arts School at bergenPAC and this summer’s production of “West Side Story.” Diaz said he loved working with students in this production because “they have a wonderful youthful energy. They are not jaded by the industry, and they bring this great aura to the production.”
The greatest tribute to The Performing Arts School at bergenPAC is how its classes and teachers inspire students. Due to this inspiration, many cast members of “West Side Story” said they are thinking about seeking professional careers in the arts.