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50th Anniversary West Side Story Coming to NCSA and Ravina

The North Carolina School of the Arts (NCSA), one of the premier arts conservatories in the United States, will present a new production of West Side Story to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the work. NCSA's production of West Side Story will receive its world premiere in a fully staged, Broadway-caliber performance at the Roger L. Stevens Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, on May 3, 2007. A special Gala Benefit performance will be presented on May 5. The North Carolina production will continue through May 13, and then extend the run for one performance at Chicago's Ravinia Festival on June 8.

West Side Story will be directed by NCSA Drama Dean Gerald Freedman, who was assistant director of the original 1957 Broadway production, as conceived by Jerome Robbins, and co-director of the 1980 Broadway revival. As part of the team that created the original Broadway production, Freedman worked closely with West Side Story producer Harold Prince, author Arthur Laurents, composer Leonard Bernstein, lyricist Stephen Sondheim, and choreographer and director Jerome Robbins. In 2006, Laurents was the commencement speaker at and received an honorary doctorate from NCSA.

The musical director of this 2007 production will be internationally-renowned conductor John Mauceri. Maestro Mauceri, the new Chancellor of the North Carolina School of the Arts, worked closely with Leonard Bernstein for 18 years -- from 1972 until Bernstein's death in 1990. At Bernstein's request, Mauceri edited, supervised, and conducted numerous Bernstein works (many of them premieres) in the major capitals of the world, including New York, Los Angeles, Washington, London, Milan and Tel Aviv.

In addition, the School has enlisted Guest Artist Kevin Backstrom, one of the few dancers certified to stage Jerome Robbins' choreography.

The West Side Story cast, orchestra, and crew will consist of approximately one hundred students chosen from all five of NCSA's professional training schools: Dance, Design and Production, Drama, Filmmaking, and Music. The all-school cast will be led by NCSA Senior Drama students Paul Baswell and Jordan Brown as Tony and Katharine Elkington and Anna Wood as Maria. Audiences will experience the stars of tomorrow performing a classic musical production, which engages the nostalgia of the past while remaining relevant to the present. Physically and artistically demanding, the students began intense training one year in advance. North Carolina School of the Arts all-school musicals, produced only once a decade, have included Brigadoon, Oklahama!, Kiss Me Kate, and Canterbury Tales.

"To me, our production of West Side Story is a touchstone for what is happening to the arts in America," said NCSA Chancellor John Mauceri. "At the School of the Arts, we are examining our curriculum and our teaching methods to enable cross-disciplinary learning. This will strengthen the development of our students as whole artists and will give them advantages few schools offer."

"In a flat world, with everything outsourced, it is becoming increasingly apparent that America's competitive edge lies in the creativity inherent in our culture," Mauceri continued. "Organizations throughout our country are seeking multi-dimensional, creative individuals. Could the MFA become the new MBA?"

During the West Side Story opening week, on May 5, a symposium in Winston-Salem will feature members of the Bernstein family along with notables from the original 1957 Broadway production. The symposium will be funded by the Thomas S. Kenan Institute for the Arts. As part of a unique partnership, the Kenan Institute provides strategic and financial support for creative projects associated with the North Carolina School of the Arts.

ABOUT WEST SIDE STORY By Gerald Freedman, Dean, NCSA School of Drama

In 1957, I was part of a team of some of the most creative and inspired artists on Broadway who came together to mastermind a totally new type of musical. Hal Prince produced the musical. Arthur Laurents wrote the book. Leonard Bernstein composed and orchestrated a brilliant score. Stephen Sondheim wrote the lyrics. And, Jerome Robbins conceived the story and dynamic choreography that would knit all of these pieces together into the musical known as West Side Story.

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