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Q&A with Beth Crandall of 'West Side Story'

Frederick native Beth Crandall is working both in front of the proscenium arch and behind it to help shape the production of "West Side Story" currently running at the Hippodrome Theatre.

The 26-year-old performs most nights as Zaza, one of the Jets' girlfriends. But, her impeccable technique also won her a job as the production's assistant dance captain.

Crandall recently put her feet up long enough to chat about what it's like to be part of an iconic musical.

Your trained primarily as a dancer. Why did you choose a career in musical theater instead of working with a ballet or jazz troupe?

When I was 13 or 14, my dad took me on a father-daughter date. He bought tickets at the last minute for us to see Carol Channing in "Hello, Dolly!" at the Kennedy Center.

We were closer to the chandelier than we were to the stage. But Carol Channing had such stage presence. She was so captivating and funny, I couldn't take my eyes off her. That's when I first got the idea that musical theater was something I wanted to do.

What are an assistant dance captain's duties?

In the past few weeks, we've put in six new cast members, and it's my job to help maintain the integrity of the choreography. Usually, we only have five or six rehearsals before they have to go on.

Choreographer Jerome Robbins' style isn't taught very often in dance classes, and we don't want anyone bringing their own nuances to the choreography. Every movement has a reason, an intention. Every movement moves the story along a little further.

The Sharks and the Jets also have different dance styles. The Sharks are Puerto Rican, and they have much more pride. The Jets are lower-class and come from a more beaten-down environment. Their movements are full of anger.

You've performed "West Side Story" internationally in an all-English production. Do foreign audiences respond to the story differently than American audiences?

In the United States, the audiences tend to side with the Jets, whereas in Spain, it was definitely the Sharks who were the favorites.

And in Israel, the audience doesn't react to the ending.

When we do the show in the United States and a gun goes off, people are startled. They jump in their seats and giggle a little.

But in Israel, the weapons weren't really a shock factor. Then you walk around the streets and it makes sense. Everyone in Israel trains in the military. Guns are everywhere.

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