NJYT, Morris Museum's Bickford Theatre & Centenary Stage Co. to Present WEST SIDE STORY this Summer

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New Jersey Youth Theatre (NJYT) has spent the 25 years producing and mounting professional-level musical theatre productions with casts consisting of children, teenagers, and young adults. In 1997, when the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) opened its doors, New Jersey Youth Theatre took residency in the PAC's Victoria Theatre. Over a period of 15 years, NJYT and NJPAC produced award-winning shows that utilized the talent of over 600 young performers throughout the state. For the first time in 15 years, New Jersey Youth Theatre has separated from NJPAC and has ventured out on its own, returning to its community roots.

New Jersey Youth Theatre (NJYT), the Morris Museum's Bickford Theatre in Morristown and Centenary Stage Company in Hackettstown will join forces this coming summer by assembling a theatrical company of youth performers to present this summer's eagerly anticipated Leonard Bernstein musical, WEST SIDE STORY. "This is the 10th Anniversary of NJYT's award-winning production, so it seemed the right time to reprise this awe-inspiring show," said Cynthia Meryl, NJYT's Artistic Director. In 2003, NJYT's production of WEST SIDE STORY won the Music Theatre International's Award of Excellence, an award rarely given out and only once in the ensuing ten years.

Knowing that they would not be able to reap the benefits and comfort of NJPAC's resources, New Jersey Youth Theatre turned to local community organizations and was met with much enthusiasm. The Westfield Community Center (Westfield) and Audio Incorporated (Roselle Park) are two of the organizations that responded positively and opened its doors to New Jersey Youth Theatre. Both venues are being used as rehearsal spaces throughout June and July. Northfield Bank Foundation also joined forces with NJYT and donated $10,000 toward the upcoming production. Two River Community Bank and the Westfield Foundation, realizing the significance of arts education and the value in a New Jersey Youth Theatre training, also contributed.

WEST SIDE STORY is a musical masterpiece setting a standard of excellence in American musical theatre that has seldom, if ever, been achieved since. The original stage production opened in 1957 with powerful direction and choreography by Jerome Robbins, biting lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, a riveting book by Arthur Laurents, and a musical score by Leonard Bernstein featuring now-legendary songs such as "Tonight," "Something's Coming," "Somewhere," and "America."

WEST SIDE STORY is the world's greatest love story coupled with the timeless music of Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim. The show takes us to the Upper West Side neighborhood of New York City. This landmark Broadway musical transports the immortal Shakespearean story of Romeo and Juliet to Manhattan and explores the tragic rivalry between the Jets and the Sharks, two controlling teenage street gangs of different ethnic backgrounds.

The work, a masterful interweaving of song, dance and dramatic action, deals with deadly prejudice and racism, and the transcendence of hope and advocacy for tolerance and respect for all people. The state of world events today has prompted the producers to choose WEST SIDE STORY to convey this powerful message to the young participants as well as to audiences.

As an additional note, every summer the NJYT casts are polled as to what plays or musicals they would like to experience. Undoubtedly, every year WEST SIDE STORY tops the list. Cynthia Meryl, Artistic Director, said, "We feel that NJYT is ready to tackle this challenge again, and we can finally fulfill the wishes of many young New Jersey performers and musicians."

Meryl added: "We are especially proud and delighted that, for the first time, we will be collaborating with the Bickford Theatre and returning to Centenary Stage, where we had such a wonderful experience last summer. Considering the state arts budget cuts and the extreme need for arts funding, this kind of networking is key to theatre's survival."

Eric Hafen, Artistic Director of the Bickford Theatre said, "We are very excited to partner with NJYT on WEST SIDE STORY. This collaboration will give great opportunity to the young talent of New Jersey."

For further general NJYT information, go to www.njyouththeatre.org, or call 908-233-3200. For ticket and schedule information, or for group sale rates for WEST SIDE STORY at the Bickford Theatre, please call 973-971-3706, or e-mail info@bickfordtheatre.org; at Centenary, please call 908-979-0900 or go online at www.centenarystageco.org. Tickets for Bickford and Centenary performances may also be purchased at the box offices. Group sale discounts are available for groups of ten or more.

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