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The Wild, Wild “West” and The Nutcracker coming soon

by Mark Burger

The North Carolina School of the Arts marked a milestone this year with its 50th-anniversary production of the classic musical West Side Story.

Now, NCSA will commemorate that milestone with the publication of Celebrating West Side Story: The North Carolina School of the Arts, A Fiftieth Anniversary Production. This book is written by John Mauceri, NCSA chancellor, who also served as the musical director for the show.

Mauceri also worked for many years alongside the legendary Leonard Bernstein, the composer of West Side Story. The director of the NCSA production was Gerald Freedman, the dean of the School of Drama, who was himself the assistant director of the original 1957 production of West Side Story, working under Jerome Robbins. Freedman later co-directed the 1980 Broadway revival.

In addition, the NCSA production enlisted guest artist Kevin Backstrom, one of the few dancers certified to stage Robbins’ choreography.

The NCSA production boasted the combined efforts of 350 students and faculty from the five NCSA schools (Dance, Drama, Filmmaking, Music and Design & Production).

Both Freedman and Mauceri share their memories about the show in the book, and how its success influenced their subsequent careers. The book also features more than 150 color photographs by acclaimed photographer Donald Dietz. What, no black and white? What’s wrong with black and white?

Mauceri holds the lifetime title of founding director of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, a position created for him by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra in 1991.

Recently, Mauceri was named music consultant to the Leonard Bernstein Office and was asked to serve on the advisory board of the Leonard Bernstein Center for Learning at Gettysburg College. (My mother and father both graduated from Gettysburg, actually).

Just for the record, years ago I interviewed the late Robert Wise, who co-directed the film version of West Side Story in 1961 and shared the Academy Award for direction with Robbins – the first and only time that two directors won the Oscar in that category. Why they didn’t consult me for the book, I’ll never know!

The 144-page book will be available in hardcover ($50, plus $8.50 shipping and handling) and softcover ($30, plus $7.50 shipping and handling) – and it’ll be available in time for holiday gift-giving. (Might be a little big for a stocking stuffer.)

For more information about the book, or to download an order form, see ncarts.edu/wssbook or call 336.770.1437. Operators are standing by.

Of course, NCSA is renowned for its live performances, and this time of year can mean only one thing: The holiday ballet classic The Nutcracker, opening this Saturday at the Stevens Center (405 W. Fourth St.). The show features the combined talents of artists from NCSA and the Winston-Salem Symphony, with Robert Moody conducting.

The Nutcracker will run through Dec. 9. Showtimes are 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; 7 p.m. Thursday (Dec. 6) and Friday (Dec. 7); 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. next Saturday and Sunday (Dec. 8 and 9). Ticket prices range from $23 to $100, depending on date and time of show. For tickets or more information, call 336.721.1945 or see ncarts.edu.

As for Gerald Freedman, he’ll be at the helm of the Studio IV (senior class) production of the musical extravaganza The Game of Love which will open in February at the Agnes de Mille Theatre in Performance Place on campus (1533 S. Main St., Winston-Salem).

Freedman, whose extensive theatrical career includes the original off-Broadway production of Hair – he resigned late into rehearsals and was coaxed back before the opening, a story in itself – has been the dean of the School of Drama since 1991. As a teacher and as a director, Freedman has made many a student quake in their boots, but he knows his business and he loves the kids.

Freedman also turned 80 this summer, and his energy and vigor put people half his age to shame.

Knowing Gerald as I do, the next time I see him, he’ll say he appreciated the “energy and vigor” description but grouse that I revealed his age. Sorry, Gerald. Just the facts, man. Just the facts.

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