The Story Behind Lyric Stage's Production of West Side Story

When you're a Jet, you're a Jet all the way.

With a cast of 30 and a 32-member orchestra onstage, the production of West Side Story that opens Friday is one of the biggest shows Irving's Lyric Stage has ever produced. It's directed by Grover Dale, a veteran Broadway dancer who originated the role of Snowboy in the 1957 production of the Bernstein-Sondheim musical. Choreographer Kate Swan, a graduate of Greenhill School, taught the young cast the notoriously difficult Jerome Robbins dance steps.

Main roles -- Maria, Tony, Anita, Bernardo, Riff -- went to Equity professionals, including some hired out of New York. But the Jets and the Sharks, the show's warring street gangs, are played by area dancers, many of them teenagers from Booker T. Washington School of Performing and Visual Arts.

At auditions last spring and rehearsals over the summer, we noticed one standout among the dance corps: Harry Nathan Feril, an 18-year-old Booker T. senior. The Grand Prairie native has been dancing since he was 7, and West Side Story marks his first musical theater role. Dale cast him as Diesel, the "big, dumb guy" among the Jets. Feril proved to be such a good actor, Dale also assigned him dialogue usually spoken by another character. Video proof and more, after the jump.

Here's what Feril says he likes about dancing: "However I am feeling, I can express it through movement."

And the coolest compliment to pay a dancer? "To say a dancer is fierce, which means you're amazing. Or your legs are ganked out, which means really flexible."

To prepare for West Side Story, Feril took voice lessons and attended summer "intensives" at the Martha Graham Dance Company in New York and with the Juilliard dance faculty. What has he learned from doing the show? "I had to gain the stamina you have to have during rehearsal. Even when you have nothing left inside, you dig deep and give something."

And yeah, he thinks he can dance, unlike some of those contestants on TV dance competitions.

"I think [those shows] give many dancers a shot at fulfilling their dreams of becoming a dancer, but I do not agree with some of their choices on the shows, such as keeping dancers who are not technically trained at all."

When you see West Side Story -- and you should -- look for the tall redheaded kid with the muscles. That's Harry Feril. Want to see him dance? We thought you would, so we took our camera to rehearsals. Watch. He's fierce. --Elaine Liner

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky