First Look at Asolo Repertory Theatre’s Presentation of the Broadway Musical WEST SIDE STORY, Directed by Two-time Tony Nominee Joey McKneely

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By Carole Kaye

Showcasing the start of the Asolo Repertory Theatre’s 57th season, the media was invited to “rumble” with the cast of the Asolo Rep’s award winning musical production, West Side Story. The original Broadway production premiered in 1957, winning two Tony awards, and the 1961 movie adaptation won ten Academy Awards.

In the fourth year of its American Character Project, the Asolo Rep’s production of West Side Story gives the audience a glimpse into the west side of New York City in 1957. Where the Lincoln Center now stands, the west side of the city in ’57 was almost a war zone when Puerto Ricans were immigrating to the city. The play tells the story of rival street gangs fighting for their turf while lovers Tony and Maria try to find their own place amid the hostility of the gangs.

Director and choreographer Joey McKneely has directed and choreographed West Side Story throughout the world. Over 500 persons auditioned in Florida and New York before the final cast members were selected. Director McKneely purposefully chose young actors because the characters in the play are kids caught up in gangs and violence, and youthful energy is an important aspect of telling the story. The media was treated to songs and dance numbers by members of the cast which evidenced their talent, energy, and enthusiasm.

The Asolo Repertory Theatre’s production of West Side Story will open Friday, November 13, and will run through Sunday, December 27, in the Mertz Theatre located in the FSU Center for the Performing Arts. Asolo Rep will also host a special “Family Day at West Side Story” on December 5, with tickets discounted for families, and offering family friendly activities prior to the performance.

No one should miss seeing the Asolo Repertory’s production of West Side Story.




Directed by Two-time Tony Nominee Joey McKneely,
Asolo Repertory Theatre Opens its 2015-16 Season with the Groundbreaking Broadway Musical WEST SIDE STORY

(SARASOTA, October 13, 2015) —  Asolo Repertory Theatre kicks off its highly anticipated 2015-16 season with the electrifying Tony Award®-winning musical WEST SIDE STORYOne of the greatest musicals ever written, Asolo Rep’s production will open Friday, November 13 at 8pm and run through Sunday, December 27, with previews November 10 – 12 at 8pm in the Mertz Theatre located in the FSU Center for the Performing Arts. This American masterpiece was crafted by some of the most legendary artists of all time, with a book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and choreography by Jerome Robbins. Two-time Tony Award nominee Joey McKneely, who reproduced the choreography for the celebrated 2009 Broadway revival, will direct and reproduce Robbins’ timeless choreography for Asolo Rep’s production.

The gritty streets of mid-1950s Upper West Side Manhattan come to life in this unforgettable story of star-crossed lovers entangled in the rivalry of culturally divided street gangs. As the Jets and the Sharks rumble for their turf, Tony and Maria long for their very own place far from the intolerance that surrounds them. The original Broadway production premiered in 1957 and was nominated for six Tony Awards, winning two. The 1961 film adaptation starring Natalie Wood was nominated for 11 Academy Awards®, winning 10. Featuring such unforgettable classics as “Maria,” “America,” “I Feel Pretty” and “Tonight,” Asolo Rep’s freshly interpreted production is packed with the breathtaking choreography, thrilling songs, and unforgettable characters that have made WEST SIDE STORY a worldwide phenomenon for more than 50 years.
Director Joey McKneely has directed and reproduced the choreography for WEST SIDE STORY all over the world, including productions at London’s Sadler’s Wells Theatre, which received an Olivier Award nomination for Best Musical Revival, Paris’s Théâtre du Châtelet and Milan’s La Scala Opera. His relationship with Jerome Robbins began in 1988 when he was cast as a Jet in the Broadway production of Jerome Robbins’ Broadway. During rehearsals, he worked intimately with the eminent choreographer for six months, having the opportunity to immerse himself in Robbins’ groundbreaking style of choreography. McKneely will direct WEST SIDE STORY for the first time in the U.S. for Asolo Rep’s production.

“Having given international audiences from around the world a new, exciting production of WEST SIDE STORY for years, this production of WEST SIDE STORY at Asolo Repertory Theatre will mark the first time my version will be seen in the United States,” said director/choreographer Joey McKneely. “My mission has always been to bring a youthful, emotional, contemporary feel to WEST SIDE STORY so it makes a new generation of fans just as the 1957 production did. It has changed my life in so many ways, but most of all, it made me believe in the power of love.”

kicks off the fourth season of Asolo Rep’s American Character Project, an ambitious five-year examination and celebration of the extraordinary people, culture, history and experiences that make our country unique. Throughout the American Character Project, Asolo Rep’s seasons have continued to feature productions that explore, embody, and attempt to spotlight what it truly means to be an American. WEST SIDE STORY‘s themes of racial conflict, true love conquering all, and the pursuit of the American Dream remain just as poignant today as they did when WEST SIDE STORY first premiered in 1957.

WEST SIDE STORY is one of the greatest works in the history of American musical theatre,” said Producing Artistic Director Michael Donald Edwards. “Asolo Rep’s production will be freshly reinterpreted, redesigned, and reconceived by a brilliant young creative team, helmed by director Joey McKneely, who is recognized around the world as a Jerome Robbins expert. Through its compelling songs and choreography, this musical magnifies the story of a simple turf war between two reckless groups of impulsive young people – those who see themselves as ‘true’ Americans and those who have just adopted this country as their new home. It is thrilling to kick off the fourth season of our American Character Project with this iconic production that artfully depicts issues that are still incredibly relevant while telling one of the greatest love stories of all time.”
Each performance of WEST SIDE STORY will be preceded by “The Scoop,” Asolo Rep’s insightful pre-performance discussion series led by cast members from the production. Following each Tuesday performance, the theatre will host “Tuesday Talkbacks,” intimate post-show discussions with featured actors or guests. Asolo Rep will also host a special Family Day at WEST SIDE STORY on Saturday December 5, where families can dance in Asolo Rep’s WEST SIDE STORY Music Video, enjoy family-friendly activities that explore the world of the musical prior to the performance, experience the performance with tickets discounted for families, and join a post-performance discussion with the cast. Throughout Asolo Rep’s run of WEST SIDE STORY, the theatre will also provide nearly 1,000 students access to the world-class production through student matinee performances and public performances.

(In Order of Appearance)

Kenn Christopher*                                        Officer Krupke/Doc
Steven Sean Garland*                                        Lieutenant Schrank/Glad Hand
Amos Wolff*                                        Riff
Raynor Rubel                                        Big Deal
Michael Callahan*                                        A-Rab
Brett Thiele*                                        Action
Andrés Acosta*                                        Bernardo
Caleb Dicke                                        Jet Boy
Daniel Russell*                                        Baby John
Tahlia Joanna Byers                                        Anybody’s
Sean Rollofson*                                        Diesel
Marc Koeck*                                        Tony
Jenna Burns*                                        Maria
Mary Antonini*                                        Anita
Virgil Matelau                                        Chino
Alejandro Fonseca                                        Shark Boy
Marilyn Caserta                                        Rosalia
Brianna Abruzzo                                        Jet Girl
Jill Gittleman                                        Jet Girl
Travante S. Baker*                                       Shark Boy
Victoria Byrd                                       Shark Girl
Kathryn Huxtable                                       Jet Girl /Shark Girl
James Gregory Jeffery                                       Shark Boy
Isabelle McCalla*                                       Shark Girl
Anthony Raimondi+                                       Shark Boy
Michelle West                                       Shark Girl

* = Members of Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.
+ = Dance Captain

(In Alphabetical Order)

Director and Choreographer                                        Joey McKneely
Music Director                                        Donald Chan
Scenic Designer                                        Lee Savage
Costume Designer                                        Ann Hould-Ward
Lighting Designer                                        Brian Nason
Sound Designer                                        Kevin Kennedy
Hair/Wig & Make-up Designer                                        Michelle Hart
Voice & Dialect Coach                                        Patricia Delorey

(In Alphabetical Order)

ANDRÉS ACOSTA* FIRST SEASON (Bernardo) is a NYC based actor from Ft. Myers, FL. National Tours: West Side Story (Bernardo) Flashdance (Joe/ensemble) Regional: Paper Mill Playhouse, North Shore Music Theatre, Merry Go Round Playhouse, Arvada Center and Lyric Theatre of OK. Favorite professional credits: Grease (Danny) A Chorus Line (Al) and Ragtime (Houdini). BFA in Music Theatre from Florida State University and proud member of Actor’s Equity Association. Special thanks to Joey McKneely and Paul Haardt.

 FIRST SEASON (Anita) was part of Jesus Christ Superstar on Broadway, at the La Jolla Playhouse and at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. She was also in The Flaming Lips Musical: Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots at the La Jolla Playhouse and spent three seasons at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival where she did several shows including CamelotA Midsummer Night’s Dream, and West Side Story.


JENNA BURNS* FIRST SEASON (Maria) Favorite regional credits include: Thoroughly Modern Millie (Millie), Into the Woods (Cinderella), and Legally Blonde (Vivienne Kensington). Jenna is a proud graduate of Belmont University.

MARC KOECK* FIRST SEASON (Tony) recently starred as John Jasper in The Mystery of Edwin Drood at the New London Barn Playhouse. Other recent credits include: Lancelot in Camelot (New Repertory Theatre), Legally Blonde (Ocean State Theatre), Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar (The Boston Conservatory), and the workshop of the upcoming Baseball Hall of Fame musical Stars and Strikes. Mr. Koeck is a proud 2014 graduate of The Boston Conservatory.


JOEY McKNEELY FIRST SEASON (Director and Choreographer) has directed/choreographed West Side Story throughout the world including London’s Sadler’s Wells (Olivier Nom/Best Musical Revival), Paris’s Théâtre du Châtelet and Milan’s La Scala Opera. On Broadway, Joey’s choreographic debut was Smokey Joe’s Café, followed by The Life, Twelfth Night at Lincoln Center, The Wild PartyThe Boy From Oz starring Hugh Jackman, and West Side Story.  He has earned 2 Tony Award Nominations, 2 Outer Critics Circle Nominations, an NAACP Image Award and an LA Ovation Award. He has also directed/choreographed US National Tours of Thoroughly Modern Millie, Annie Get Your Gun, Crazy For You and Smokey Joe’s Café. Internationally, The Beautiful Game in Japan; the world premiere of Love U, Teresa, and Ah, Kuling! in China; and Evita and Dusty in London.

AMOS WOLFF* FIRST SEASON (Riff) has been seen on Broadway in Gigi, Chicago and Follies. Other New York Credits: Guys and Dolls (Carnegie Hall), Piece of My Heart (Signature) and Where’s Charlie? and Little Me (Encores). He’s toured the country in First National Tours of the recent revivals of A Chorus Line and South Pacific and regionally has performed productions at Goodspeed Opera House, Williamstown Theater Festival, The MUNY in St. Louis and Pittsburgh CLO. Education: University of Michigan, BFA Musical Theater and RADA: Shakespeare in Performance.


Inside Asolo Rep: WEST SIDE STORY
Wednesday, November 4 at 11am
Asolo Rep’s Mezzanine
Panel discussions are $5 and free for all donors and Asolo Rep Guild MembersGet rare insights into the artistic process, hear directly from the people responsible for producing WEST SIDE STORY, and engage in stimulating discussion inspired by the musical’s themes and issues.
Inside Asolo Rep is sponsored by Hotel Indigo and the Observer

 IllumiNation Event

Tuesday, November 17 at 6:30pm

Pre-show cocktail reception and a post-show discussion held on the Mezzanine
Performance in the Mertz Theatre
Contact Asolo Rep’s Box Office for series package information and single performance tickets.

Asolo Rep kicks off its new series of performances and events promoting cross-cultural conversations in the community with WEST SIDE STORY. IllumiNation evenings begin with a cocktail hour at 6:30pm, continue with that evening’s performance at 7:30pm and conclude with a moderated panel discussion where audience members can further explore the topical and social issues that they have just seen played out on stage.
IllumiNation is sponsored by Morton’s Gourmet Market & Catering.

[email protected]: WEST SIDE STORY
Thursday, December 3 at 6:30pm; show starts at 7:30pm
Asolo Rep’s Mezzanine
Contact Asolo Rep’s Box Office for subscription and ticket information

Now in its seventh season, [email protected] is Sarasota’s premier cultural event connecting local Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender communities with fantastic theatre. Enjoy a pre-show reception and learn about participating LGBT organizations, gain personal insight into WEST SIDE STORY from the creative team and cast members, and mingle with the actors and other OUT attendees after the performance.
[email protected] is sponsored by U.S. Trust, Visit Sarasota County, Morton’s Gourmet Market & Catering, Community Foundation of Sarasota County – Our Sarasota Fund and McCauley Brown Fund, and Watermark Media. 

Dance in an Asolo Rep Music Video!
Saturday, December 5 at noon
Front Steps of Asolo Rep
FREE! Tickets to WEST SIDE STORY are not required to participate in this event.

Young and young at heart are invited to participate in Asolo Rep’s WEST SIDE STORY Music Video. Learn simple movement to this musical’s famous songs, and perform alongside members of the cast, neighbors, family and friends. Recommended for ages 10 and up.


Saturday, December 5 at 2pm; pre-show activities at 1pm
Asolo Repertory Theatre
Tickets are $60 for a family of four; two tickets must be for patrons under the age of 18. Additional tickets for children under age 18 are available for $12.

A special matinee performance offers theatre-loving families an affordable way to see this classic America musical, and welcomes you to learn more about how the magic is made at Asolo Rep. With four tickets for the price of one, bring the whole family! Recommended for ages 10 and up.

WEST SIDE STORY Family Day’s Lead Sponsor is Community Foundation of Sarasota County.

American Character in Concert

Sunday, December 13 at 7pm
Mertz Theatre
Tickets are $15
Tickets are $10 for full-time students 25 and under
This one-night-only cabaret event has become an anticipated annual tradition. WEST SIDE STORY artists will inform and entertain in an intimate and educational performance.


The Scoop

One hour prior to every performance of WEST SIDE STORY
Asolo Rep’s Mertz Theatre, orchestra level

Arrive one hour before curtain to hear the ideas and inspirations that contributed to the making of WEST SIDE STORY.

Tuesday Talkbacks
Every Tuesday performance
Asolo Rep’s Mezzanine

Join us for an intimate post-show discussion with featured actors or guests following every Tuesday performance of WEST SIDE STORY.

Meet the Actors
Sunday, December 20 at 2pm
Asolo Rep’s Mertz Theatre

Immediately following the 2pm matinee, ask questions and learn more from members of the cast at this intimate discussion.

New this Season: Start times for Wednesday & Thursday performances will be moved one-half hour earlier to 1:30pm and 7:30pm. All preview performances will begin at 8pm.

Tickets for WEST SIDE STORY and the entire 2015-2016 Asolo Repertory Theatre season are on sale now. Tickets for WEST SIDE STORY start at $26. WEST SIDE STORY is  recommended for ages 10 and up. To purchase tickets, call 941.351.8000 or 800.361.8388, visit, or visit the Asolo Repertory Theatre Box Office, located in the lobby of the theatre. Asolo Repertory Theatre is located at 5555 North Tamiami Trail in the Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts. The box office is currently open Monday – Friday, 10am – 5pm. Box office hours in season, beginning November 2, are Monday 10am – 4pm, Tuesday – Thursday 10am – 7:30pm, Friday – Saturday 10am – 8pm, and Sunday 10am – 2pm. The box office closes at 5pm when there are no evening performances and phone lines close one hour prior to the start of any performance. Season subscription packages are also available online and by visiting or calling the box office.


Asolo Rep is able to present WEST SIDE STORY because of the generosity of its sponsors. Corporate sponsors for WEST SIDE STORY are Cool Today, Sarasota Magazine, Herald Tribune, SNN, Hyatt Place, Michael’s on East, and 107.9 WSRQ. Asolo Rep 2015-2016 Major Season Sponsors are Florida State UniversityCharles & Margery Barancik FoundationGulf Coast Community FoundationThe Virginia B. Toulmin FoundationThe Shubert FoundationDesigning Women BoutiqueWoman’s Exchange, Inc., and Sunset Cadillac of Bradenton. Asolo Rep’s artistic programs are paid for in part by Sarasota County Tourist Development Tax revenues. Asolo Rep is sponsored in part by the State of Florida, Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs and the Florida Council on Arts and Culture.

WEST SIDE STORY Youth and Family Programs Major Sponsors are: Lead Sponsor Community Foundation of Sarasota CountyPublix Super Markets CharitiesCharles Henry Leach II FundHarry Leopold Arts Fund of the Community Foundation of Sarasota CountyKoski Family Fund for New AudiencesCordelia Lee Beattie Foundation, Linnie E. Dalbeck Memorial Foundation TrustMandell and Madeleine Berman FoundationAndrew R. Ferrell Foundation, The Huisking Foundation, and Asolo Repertory Theatre Guild. Community Foundation of Sarasota County support is made possible through the Lola G. Hanna Fund, John and Tana Sandefur Foundation, John and Dorothy Brennan Charitable Fund, Walter Haskins Fund in memory of Stacey K. Haskins, and Cyril and Dorothy Veinott Memorial Fund.



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