West Side Story in Warrnambool

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West Side Story in Warrnambool

Think you don’t know a thing about West Side Story? How about the Jets and the Sharks? Making its Broadway debut in 1957, the musical about young love against the odds if for no other reason is known for its teenage gangs, the Jets and the Sharks. The Warrnambool Holiday Actors will staging the play at The Lighthouse this month and we wanted to know more. We had a chat with Rebecca Fullerton who plays the female lead Maria, the sister of the Shark’s gang leader, Bernardo and love interest of former Jet, Tony.
Hi there Maria, how are you and what are you up to at the moment? 
Hi, I’m well thank you! Thanks so much for having me! At the moment I’m getting ready to feed calves, haha. My Dad’s a dairy farmer near Peterborough, so helping on the farm keeps my brother Wade and I busy when we’re not with the HA gang! The calves get plenty serenaded but don’t seem to mind us practising in front of them, haha!
Wade is doing an amazing job playing Lieutenant Schrank. It’s a lot of fun having him in the cast – we’re able to practice together, and he’s happy to do the driving!
You must be pretty excited to be involved in such a classic as West Side Story. What is it you love about the play? 
I am soooo excited, haha! It’s a privilege to be a part of such a wonderful classic as West Side Story. What do I love about production? I suppose the music. This is my second favourite musical. The first is ‘Les Mis’, for its storyline AND music, but crazily enough I like the music in West Side Story better.
The dancing is outstanding; there’s so much of it! I love the acting, too. It’s a difficult production to perform acting-wise, as the emotions that you have to portray are sometimes quite challenging. But I love it!
How has the training and rehearsal gone for the show? 
Rehearsals have been surprisingly calm – there were a whole lot of dance concerts during December, and because the majority of the cast couldn’t make it to HA practices, we had to chop a few rehearsal dates. But just after Christmas we had our sitzprobe [a seated rehearsal], so our first practice with the band, and that went so well!
The band sounded phenomenal and our director, Emma Miller, said she was happy with the stage that we’re at. Our next rehearsal is in the theatre with all of the sets. It’ll be so exciting, especially with all of the chain fences and balcony and … oh, there’s too many to list! Haha.
I imagine singing and dancing can be quite a task. Has there been anything you’ve had to overcome in the show as a performer? 
I suppose I’ve had to overcome the fact that I’m not Rebecca, I’m Maria. It’s easier to act when you know you’re not yourself on stage. I don’t think I’ve ever or will ever play such an emotional role, when considering the acting. Some of the scenes are quite difficult to perform, such as Tony’s death scene, but they’re also so fun (sorry, that sounds awful doesn’t it? haha)!
Music-wise, West Side Story is extremely difficult to perfect, both for the orchestra and the cast. In saying that, the whole company is sounding superb! I’d say that from all of the practising my vocal strength has broadened. I’ve never practised singing so much in such a short amount of time!
The hardest song for me is definitely A Boy Like That and I Have a Love, which is a powerful and beautiful duet sung by Maria and Anita, played by the spectacular Jacqui Lumsden. Lucky for me, I don’t have too much dancing to do, but my hat is off to the featured dancers and Emily Trigg, our choreographer, of this production. I can’t imagine how much they must ache right now! They do an incredible job.
Seeing as it’s based off Romeo & Juliet, are you a big fan of Shakespeare’s works? 
Oh, I like Shakespeare. I’ll admit I’ve only read a couple of his works for school purposes, haha! But they’re well worth reading. I especially enjoyed Othello in Year 11. They’re wonderful to watch; recently I had the privilege of seeing the Bell Shakespeare Company perform Henry V at the Lighthouse Theatre. I think they had changed the production slightly; it appeared as if civilians during WWII had locked themselves away from the bombs outside and were reenacting Henry V so they wouldn’t seem so scared.
The storyline of Romeo and Juliet doesn’t excite me that much, haha! But West Side Story differs slightly from Shakespeare’s play.
Why do you think West Side Story works so well? 
Hmm… it’s probably the racism that makes the adaptation so great. That sounds rather horrible, doesn’t it? haha! But, I mean, why would two families hate each other so much? The hatred between Americans and Puerto Ricans during the ’50s seems so much more raw and relatable and real.
The music is just phenomenal, so that would definitely portray this production as the perfect adaptation to Shakespeare’s play. The dancing also works well as an adaptation – Emily Trigg has an incredible way of displaying the character’s emotions through the dances.
Will the show at Lighthouse Theatre stay pretty true to the original production of West Side Story or can we expect a few changes? 
Yeah, this version of West Side Story doesn’t veer off too far from the original. I think this year’s Young Director’s program changed the original production of A Chorus Line from being set in the ’70s to being more modern. That was a wonderful performance! J
Are there any surprises? 
I don’t think there are really any surprises to hide … but if you haven’t seen the musical before you might get quite a shock! It’s very crash-bang but beautiful and lovely, if that makes sense … Sorry, I’m not much help, haha!
Do you have a favourite part in the show? 
Ooh, that’s tricky… I’m the worst decider! My favourite song is Somewhere, A Boy Like That and I Have a Love is incredible. I love listening to the quintet of Tonight, Officer Krupke is hilarious. Something’s Coming is so catchy … the final scene is a lot of fun to act out…
Haha, maybe I don’t have a favourite part of the show! Dang it, I forgot about the Prologue and Jet Song … They’re superb, too, haha!
Lastly, why should people boycott outdoor summer activities to watch your performance of West Side Story? 
Well, we sold out our last two productions of Hairspray and High School Musical, so I’d say that’s a pretty good indication as to why everyone should “boycott summer activities” to see West Side Story, haha! It’s such a beautiful, jazzy, loud, crash-bang, incredible musical – a big change of scene to our last two pop-style seasons.
Honestly, West Side Story is one of the most wondrous works ever written; and with such a talented, local cast, why wouldn’t you want to come see it? We’d love your support! J
Thanks again for taking the time to chat with us. Is there anything you’d like to add before we finish up? 
Thank you so much for having me! I might just say that I hear tickets are selling really fast already, so book your seats super quick! The shows are the 14-17of January, all at 7:30 p.m., and there’s a matinee at 1 p.m., also on the 17th. You don’t want to miss it!
Photo by Maja Pearson