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Rival gangs to hit Crosswinds stage

The Jets and Sharks will be hitting the stage next week.

Crosswinds East Metro Arts and Science School's production of "West Side Story" will open June 14 at the school.

"West Side Story" is set in the rundown area of the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where two rival gangs - the Jets, led by Riff, and the Sharks, led by Bernardo - are dealing with racial issues and hatred toward each other, while trying to gain control of the streets.

One day, Tony, a former Jet and best friend of Riff, meets Bernardo's sister Maria and they fall in love.

Maria and Tony try to bring the two gangs together, to horrible consequences.

"People can relate to that competition and wanting to belong," director Cornelius Rish said. "They weren't bad kids, they were teenagers searching for a place to belong.

"The show is packaged in such a profound way that there's a little bit of something for everybody."

Teaching through theater

Whenever picking a school play, Rish said he tries to find shows that have values and lessons that students can learn.

"To me, theater is a teaching tool," he said. "Its not just all about learning acting techniques, it's much more than that. It's about teaching life lessons."

Additionally, Rish said he tries to find shows that inspire audiences to reflect on their own lives: "I always wonder when audiences leave if they have learned anything. Have they grown as people? Did we give them something to reflect on?"

Rish said he settled on "West Side Story" for the school musical based on two messages:

"The destructive nature of hate and the power of forgiveness," Rish said. "I think that second piece, the power of forgiveness, is often lost."

'High quality performance'

Rish said audiences can expect a lot from Crosswinds' production of "West Side Story," including great acting, great dancing, great costuming and of course great singing.

In fact, Rish said his two female leads, Maria and Anita, are two of the best singers he's ever worked with.

"I get so lost in their singing that I forget to direct," he said.

Audiences will also get something they may not expect, Rish said.

"What audiences should not expect to see is a normal middle school play," he said. "They should expect to see a high quality performance with excellence."

Rish said he is looking forward to seeing the show come together.

"It always amazes me to sit and watch it all come together and know that I had a part in it," he said, "because a lot of the time I'm sitting there thinking this is so far beyond just me."

Crosswinds East Metro Arts and Science School's production of "West Side Story" runs June 14-15 at 7:30 p.m., June 16 at 2 p.m., June 21-22 at 7:30 p.m. and June 23 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $7 for adults, $5 for students, $3 for seniors and children 5 and under are free. Tickets can be purchased at the door before performances.

Crosswinds East Metro Arts and Science School's theater program is also asking for donations to help cover the cost of its production. Donations can be made at In the search box type "Crosswinds Theater."

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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