When Jamesville-DeWitt High School music director Ron Nuzzo and former music director Vic Russo were 17 years old, they took a trip to Birdland, the original jazz club in NYC "where all the greats played," Nuzzo said. It was 1957, and "West Side Story" by Leonard Bernstein had just debuted on Broadway. Walking past the Winter Garden Theatre, the two saw the name on the marquee and went inside to check it out.
"We go in the lobby, look at the posters in the lobby, nobody's in the lobby because it's brand new, and [we] look at the tickets," Nuzzo said. "Two dollars and fifty cents were the cheap seats, so we said, 'Should we see it?'
"Naaaahhhh, we'll see it some other time," they both said, laughing as they retold the story.
J-D High School students will perform the classic show next weekend.
"It's the hardest, most difficult music," said Russo, a trumpeteer set to play in the performance with the students. This will be his third time conquering the score. "Fifty years later, it's the hardest music I've ever played."
This is Nuzzo's second time conducting the musical at J-D; the first time was in 1993.
"I told them this will be the most difficult music you will ever play," Nuzzo said. "Many of you won't even play after high school, but you're gonna remember this show."
Director and choreographer Shannon Tompkins agreed the show is one of the toughest around to learn.
"For dancers, it's like trying to do ballet to something that makes absolutely no sense at all," she said.
The cast and the characters
Tompkins and vocal teacher Beth Quakenbush are working with 62 players, from freshmen to seniors. More than 90 kids auditioned for the musical, making it a record high in the last five years.