RED BANK – Recreating one of cinema’s most notable musicals, Phoenix Productions has cast Rumson resident Mason Kugelman and Hazlet local Matthew Giove to play the lead roles in “West Side Story.”
The classic “West Side Story” tells of a turf war between enemy gangs in Hell’s Kitchen and the two lovers who cross battle lines. It has fascinated audiences for more than four decades. The situation gets tricky when a gang member, Tony, falls in love with a rival’s sister, Maria. The two young, idealistic lovers are caught between the opposing street gangs: The Jets and Sharks.
Phoenix Productions is a Red Bank based non-profit community theatre organization that has produced more than 100 full-scale revivals of Broadway musicals since 1988, according to a prepared statement from Phoenix Productions.
Complete with sets, costumes and a live orchestra, the organization will debut its revival of “West Side Story” for a two weekend run beginning at 8 p.m., on July 14, at the Count Basie Theatre, located at 99 Monmouth St.
Friday and Saturday performances will begin at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinee performances will begin at 3 p.m. All showings will conclude on July 23, according to a prepared statement.
Kugelman, 25, has lived in the Borough of Rumson for 19 years.
In West Side Story, Kugelman plays Tony, a romantic young man and former leader of the Jets who has found a new lifestyle without gangs and is torn violently between his friendships and love, according to a prepared statement.
“I have always wanted to play Tony my entire life. I have always loved the songs and this show has been my favorite ever since I was a kid,” Kugelman said. “I’m very excited about preforming on such a historic and well known stage. It is very cool to think I’ll be preforming on a stage that so many awesomely talented people have.”
Kugelman is an alumna of the Rumson-Fair Haven High School, and will graduate from Brookdale Community College this fall with a degree in history. He is in the process of becoming a substitute teacher and has aspirations to teach high school history, according to a prepared statement.
“It’s actually interesting I had done shows when I was younger but never really found a passion for theater until 2014. I always took voice lessons but truly fell in love with theater after high school. I played sports in high school so didn’t do theater until college,” Kugelman said.
Though Kugelman plans to pursue a career in education, he still plans to keep performing an active part of his life. While caddying at a restaurant during college, he was invited by a family member to audition for a production of Oklahoma at Algonquin Arts Theatre. He was cast as the role of Curly, and had a sharp sense for performing. Since that production, he has performed with Algonquin as Joe Cable in South Pacific and Cliff in Cabaret. He went on to work with the New Jersey Youth Theatre, Spring Lake Theatre Company, and has performed at venues across the state, according to a prepared statement.
“It’s actually interesting. I had no intention of doing theater but I was working two jobs and really just kind of looking for something to do. My cousin Julie called me up and said that New Jersey Youth Theater, based out of Roselle Park, was holding auditions for Oklahoma and I should go out for it. I did and well that’s the origin story,” Kugelman said.
Giove, 20, said he has lived in the Township of Hazlet his whole life.
In West Side Story, Giove plays the proud, strong and handsome leader of the Sharks who seeks to carve out a territory as a sense of identity for himself and his friends, according to a prepared statement.
“Actually when I found out they were doing West Side Story, I didn’t know what role I’d be interested in because I was so unfamiliar with the show. Quite honestly, I never really considered playing Bernardo until I got the call for the role. Knowing what an incredibly iconic dance role Bernardo is, I thought it would be a great challenge for me and an opportunity to learn new skills. Playing the part now, I absolutely adore this character and his role in the story,” Giove said.
Giove graduated from Raritan High School, and is currently studying liberal arts at Brookdale Community College, according to a prepared statement.
“I started really getting into the performing arts when I was eight years old and I knew when I had started then that this would be something I would want to be doing for the rest of my life. I am always looking for new areas and new experiences in the acting field to improve myself as a performer. Wherever it takes me, I am very excited and eager to go,” Giove said.
Giove is an active New Jersey performer, having appeared at Holmdel Theatre Company as Brom Bones in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, with Stage Left Productions as Gomez in The Addams Family, with South Street Players as Hal in Picnic, and with Main Street Playhouse as Darry in The Outsiders. West Side Story marks Giove’s fourth show with Phoenix Productions, having recently appeared as Prince Eric in The Little Mermaid, and in the ensemble of Beauty and the Beast and Jesus Christ Superstar, according to a prepared statement.
“I’m really looking forward to returning to the Basie stage once again and sharing it with such a powerhouse of a cast. The talent and motivation I see from these folks everyday at rehearsal is truly inspiring and I can’t wait for the audience to experience it as well,” Giove said.
West Side Story relocates Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” to modern day New York. The love story of Romeo and Juliet becomes that of Maria and Tony. Verona becomes New York, the Montagues become the Sharks, the Capulets become the Jets, the Capulet’s Ball becomes the Dance at the Gym, and the famed balcony scene occurs on a fire escape of a New York City apartment, according to information provided by Phoenix Productions.
“I have never seen the 1961 movie in its entirety. I feel like in a way that actually is beneficial to me creating the character of Bernardo all by my own interpretation. As much as I can respect the iconic aspect of the character created by George Chakiris in ’61, I’m glad to say that my adaptation of Bernardo is not influenced by the film version nor any other live production,” Giove said.
When not attending classes, Giove works at Red Oak Mortgage in Red Bank, and is a server at Texas Road House in Holmdel, according to a prepared statement.
Contact Vashti Harris at email@example.com.