Camarillo High School had the usual high school plays every year, but never in the history of the school had there been a musical production. Mr. Henderson’s first year at Camarillo high – his first year of teaching school – he determined that it would be a good idea for us to put on the musical West Side Story.
As part of our choir repertoire we were working on a medley of songs from that show and in our naiveté we believed we had half the work involved in such a production done because we already knew the music! Mr. Henderson must have been amused by our innocence.
Somehow he managed to convince the administration of the school as well as the other teachers in the fine arts department that we should present West Side Story. It was a HUGE undertaking. From our limited perspective we had no clue what all was involved, but looking back I can begin to appreciate all the work by so many people that was required for that show…
West Side Story was our introduction to Dennis Wilkerson. What a wonderful, kind, fun and talented man! A friend and classmate of Mr. Henderson’s, he came from the University of Arizona, where he was Technical Director of Theater, to direct staging, design sets and choreograph West Side Story. He also was a blast to be around. Dennis slipped into our hearts and from that time forward was “one of us.”
One of Carol’s fond memories of West Side Story is when she got her license and was allowed to take her family car, the corvair, to rehearsal one Saturday. When rehearsal was over for the day she went out to the parking lot, keys in hand. She looked around and her car was gone! The boys had picked it up and carried it behind the snack bar.
I remember trying out for the part of “Anybodys,” the foul-mouthed tomboy gang-member wannabe. I didn’t get it…I think one of the reasons was because I couldn’t-or wouldn’t-spit. Honey Stephenson, who became a good friend, was great in the part.
In one scene of the play the character Anita, played by Rosie Taylor, is surrounded by a group of boys, and screams. During one rehearsal Mr. Henderson was laying across several chairs in the audience, directing the scene. Rob Kohler, who was part of the gang of boys surrounding her, noticed that his shirt and Rosie’s were the same color. The boys played the scene as directed, threateningly surrounding Rosie as she got more and more scared. Rosie screamed a particularly blood-curdling scream, and a shirt, appearing to be Rosie’s, flew into the air. Mr. Henderson’s jaw dropped open, his eyes popped, and he almost fell off the chairs! Gotta love that Kohler humor!
Naturally, we had to have fund-raisers. The cost of the professional musicians, and oh-so-many other expenses were in no way covered by the school budget. I seriously doubt we ever came close to paying for the costly production….and the fund raisers were really more like fun-raisers for us.
Not only did we rehearse for West Side Story, we had to practice for the spaghetti dinners we put on. We even had performing chefs!
Being part of a musical was a new and exciting experience for all of us who participated. It was well and professionally done and received good reviews in our local paper. It was a blast to be a part of it!
West Side Story was a huge production – the biggest ever at Camarillo High School. It was also a huge success, the first of many successes for Mr. Henderson, and the beginning of his reputation for quality and excellence in every endeavor.
Mr. Henderson said, “WEST SIDE STORY began as a dream. As the new vocal director I wanted to follow up our highly successful Christmas program with something worthwhile. After much thought, conferences with Mr. Jansen, who shared my enthusiasm and others, WEST SIDE STORY won out as the choice over all other possibilities. It began to take shape. Students were enthusiastic.
Mr. Dennis Wilkerson, classmate of mine at the University of Arizona, and presently Technical Director of Drama there, has rendered invaluable time and service to this effort. He designed the sets, directed staging, and helped with choreography.
This has been our biggest effort yet. It has been most demanding of everyone concerned, including many hard-working parents. However, the reward from such a venture is incalculable, especially to the cast and crew: to those involved.
It is utterly impossible to adequately thank everyone deserving our gratitude…Mr. Don Wallace for layout and art work; Mr. Rod Embry for photography and coaching dialogue; Mr. Bruce Colell; and of course, orchestra members from as far away as Tucson, Arizona…”