By Greer Firestone
Posted Jun 15, 2009 @ 09:30 AM
Last update Jun 16, 2009 @ 12:05 PM
Wilmington, Del. —
Jeff Santoro faced nay-sayers and nattering nabobs of negativism (Thanks, Spiro Agnew for that phrase) when he created Delaware All-State Theatre in 2008. Visionaries are frequently derided ... until their “opening curtain.”
Santoro grew up at Delaware Children's Theatre and experienced firsthand the educational, social and developmental beneficence of live theatre. He saw there was All-State Band, a multitude of All-State sports, All-State Chorus, and more. But where was All-State theatre in the mix?
He brought the idea to Carolyn Grubb and John Gardner of The DuPont Theatre, and the entity became the producing partner.
“All-State was created to give elementary, middle, and high school students the opportunity work on a large-scale musical production in partnership with the world famous DuPont Theatre," Santoro says.
Full-time students (to age 19) from Delaware and surrounding areas are eligible to participate either as performers or behind the scenes, and after a rigorous audition process, rehearsals begin.
“We want students to hone their craft,” says Santoro. “To that end, we bring in theatre professionals from around the nation for workshops. This enlightens all of them and adds to the depth of their knowledge.”
The premiere show in 2008 was the most popular musical of all time, “Les Miserables.” Aisle Say heard glowing comments from many of the audience members who saw it: “no way this was a high school production,” “this was as professional as it gets,” and more.
If you go...
DuPont Theatre & Delaware All State Theatre present
West Side Story
8 p.m., June 19, 20, 27, 28
2 p.m., June 21, 28
DuPont Theatre, W. 10th St. at N. Market in Wilmington
$15 - $40
This year's production -- with 30 kids from Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania high schools on stage or backstage -- the American classic musical “West Side Story” (score by Leonard Bernstein & Stephen Sondheim) opens this weekend.
West Side is about racism: Puerto Rican v. Anglo. And though it is admittedly difficult for a teenager to spew racist dialog with full fury at a friend, Santoro and his staff demand truth.
When Aisle Say recently attended a rehearsal, Santoro was far from kissy-kissy on those who had not studied or considered their character fully. Sometimes stern, sometimes edgy, but always loving, he counseled the young actors in fulfilling their characterization.
Cassidy Bonilla, who this year graduated from Cab Calloway and last year played Fantine in “Les Mis,” plays Anita.
“I attended Cab for I love theatre. We had wonderful shows there. But All State Theatre is an entirely different level. It is a great honor to be in these productions. What I have learned from Jeff and (assistant director) Deb Johnson, I will remember as long as I live.”