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SummerStock at Ritz presents West Side Story

It’s the classic tale of forbidden love, and two Franklin County actresses are part of bringing the story to the stage: “West Side Story,” set to open July 18 at the Ritz Theatre in Sheffield.

The Tennessee Valley Art Association’s SummerStock at the Ritz is aimed at providing high-level opportunities and training for young people, especially those who aspire to a higher level of performance. SummerStock at the Ritz will be staging “West Side Story” July 18-20, 25 and 26 at 7:35 p.m. at the Ritz Theatre, 111 W. Third St., Sheffield.

Among the 35-member cast are two from Franklin County: Russellville High School alum Destiny Cooper and Phil Campbell High School alum Mikayla Camp.

Camp, who lives in the Posey’s Mill community of Franklin County, is a 2016 PCHS graduate. She is a senior majoring in music for vocal performance at the University of North Alabama. In “West Side Story” she plays female lead Maria. 

“I auditioned for this show with Maria in mind. I’ve always loved her character, and she has such an innocence and strength,” said Camp. “It’s made clear throughout the show that she is level-headed and more than aware of the risks and her situation, but she has the courage to pursue what she wants and to follow her heart. 

Camp, who said her first role – in fourth grade as Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz – was where her love for theatre began, said she thinks people will note the show’s depiction of “the visible effect of hate.”

“It tears people apart and causes more damage than anyone could imagine,” said Camp. “I think that no matter the background of our audiences, they’ll see the devastation that hatred can cause and how we are so much stronger when we’re standing together. Everyone is worthy of love and kindness.” 

Cooper, a 2018 graduate of RHS, plays the role of Javiera.

Tickets are $25 for adults and $18 for students and can be purchased at the Tennessee Valley Museum of Art, 511 N. Water St., Tuscumbia; ritztheatre.ticketleap.com; or by calling 256-383-0533. Tickets will be for sale at the door as available; however, based on previous SummerStock productions, director David Hope said sell-out crowds are expected.

Hope has led the SummerStock program since its inception and also directed the first SummerStock production of “West Side Story.” He said many critics consider the musical to be the greatest of all time because of the impressive dance, vocals and orchestration.

Hope is joined by music director Gene Anne Gifford, assistant director and choreographer Dennis Clark and conductor Pat Stegall.

This will be Hope’s final SummerStock production before Clark, who was hired in 2018 as Ritz Theatre artistic director, takes over the program.

Hope said “West Side Story” is a show of first experiences for him. It was the first musical he ever saw as a child, and in the fall of 1977, it was the first musical he produced at Coffee High School.

“We literally pulled kids out of the halls and cast them,” he said. “But we had some wonderfully talented young people just waiting for a chance … We packed the 1,500-seat auditorium for three performances. The next year both of our programs took off.”

Hope also directed the musical at Muscle Shoals High School after retiring from Florence City Schools, and the very next year, when the TVAA started SummerStock at the Ritz, he brought the show to the stage once again.

“Very few people direct the same show four times in their career. Many wouldn’t want to do so,” Hope said. “But I love this show, and I have such great respect for it – and because we are a training program, I feel it is so important that this generation of young performers learn and have the opportunity to perform it.”

Hope described the story as “both tragic and beautiful. Its message of how much pain is caused by hating and how much good can come from loving is every bit as relevant today –perhaps even more so than it was when it opened in 1957.”

Camp said rehearsals in preparation for the show “have been very fantastic but very intense. I’ve enjoyed them, but it’s been intense. There is so much that goes into this show, and it’s all about the small details. Every scene there is so much that happens.

“It’s a lively show. There is so much energy to it,” Camp added. “There is never a dull moment on stage … You can see the energy, dedication and enjoyment every second from the cast.”

Camp is the daughter of Sherry Camp. Cooper is the daughter of Alicia Cooper.