Mystic Vision Players get ready to rumble with ‘West Side Story

Worrall Newspapers - Arts & Entertainment

By Bea Smith, Thursday, April 3, 1997

[Barbie]  [Westside]  [Andy] 

[News Article] It was like a family council meeting rather than a meeting of the principals of the Mystic Vision Players ‘West Side Story’ when four dedicated show people visited this office on Friday afternoon. The attractive four, who have known each other for years and years, included Jil Durbin of Linden, director; Tom Pedas of Roselle, a Cranford school teacher, music director; Barbara Jude-Greco of Linden, choreographer, who also plays Graziella, and Kevin Brady Jr. of Linden, who plays Riff.

The four explained that this September will mark the 40th anniversary of the original Broadway opening of ‘West Side Story’ at the Winter Garden, and before someone decides to revive it on Broadway, the Mystic Vision Players, in conjunction with the Linden Cultural and Heritage Committee, had better bring it local audiences as soon as possible. And so, with about 30 people in the cast, the Mystic Vision Players will present the modern day ‘Romeo and Juliet’story at Linden High School's Theater/Auditorium, April 11 and 12 at 8 p.m. and April 13 at 3 p.m.

It seemed as if all four of the visitors have known each other forever. Both girls had been introduced to ‘West Side Story’ by Pedas, when he directed them in a Linden Summer Playhouse production 12 years ago. Eventually, the two girls went on to produce it at Roselle Catholic High School two years ago and won awards of excellence from the Rider University Festival in acting, choreography, dance and set design.

"Jil and I did it for Roselle Catholic High School two years ago," said Greco, "at which time, John Marinjko of Roselle played Lt. Shrank then, and now, and Andy King of Elizabeth will repeat his role as Tony. Jil, whom I've known since we were little children and who is more like a sister to me than a friend, and I have been working together in this capacity since 1992."

Greco, who works with community theater and school groups throughout New Jersey, and who, last year, was nominated for Outstanding Choreography by the New Jersey ACT Awards Inc. for her work in MVP's ‘Jesus Christ Superstar,’ also received the Medallion of Leadership in the Arts from Governor Christine Whitman for promoting culture in the state of New Jersey. She is a health and physical education teacher at Franklin School in Somerset and she also does "choreography and coaching. I coach track at Roselle Catholic High School. I teach fulltime and do summer work with the theater. I danced professionally with the New Jersey Ballet and the Joffrey Ballet in New York. I do a little bit of everything. There's no free time, but it's fun."

She explained that "I'd been away performing with a professional theater in Tennessee for a year, but now that I'm back," she grinned, "we figured, why not do the best play and do it on a professional level - and bring something to the community - and that they won't have far to go to find top entertainment."

"Yes," agreed Durbin, "we had done it on a high school level and we wanted to take it one step further." Durbin has performed in many theater productions and has directed for high schools and community theaters throughout Union County. "Actually, Tom was helping out this season."

Pedas a master music teacher, who has directed for schools, community theaters and award-winning choirs, including the Celebration Singers, and who is the original founder of the Linden Summer Playhouse, mused, "It's like taking a trip down Memory Lane. I taught Kevin, here, for 11 years, and Barbie, and all those people who are members of the Linden Summer Playhouse. I had them as students and I saw them all grow up.

"Actually," he said, "the Mystic Vision Players was established for those participants in the Linden Summer Playhouse who outgrew their stay. The players have to be 21 years of age or less. So, in 1992, they started the Mystic Vision Playhouse."

Pedas reminisced. "I started the Linden Summer Playhouse back in 1979. I had taught grade school, and I taught Kevin from the first grade on. Then I approached the Linden Recreation Department because I wanted to start a summer theater production. And that's how the playhouse started - all the people started when they were 10 or 12 years old and stayed with it until they were 21. And that's what led to the Mystic Vision Players. ..

Kevin Brady, an exceptionally handsome young man is a firefighter in Linden. "I've been doing that a little over a year," he said. "And I have been doing theater for about 14 or 15 years. Tom Pedas was my music teacher and it was he who encouraged me to audition when I was a kid. I got hooked," he grinned, " and I've been doing it ever since. This is my first show with Tom since we did "Camelot" at the Playhouse in the Park in Edison."

Pedas admitted that "every once in a while I get the urge to perform, then I want to direct. I've directed more than 30 shows and I've performed in about a dozen shows."

Greco said, " This may be our last chance to do ‘West Side Story’because now that it's celebrating its 40th anniversary of its opening, there is talk that there may be a Broadway revival. It is one of the greatest shows ever written. It was conceived, directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins with a book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. It also was an Oscar-winning movie."

Pedas said, "as co-director with Jil and Barbie, it's incredible what Jill does, and Barbie's the best in the State. ‘West Side Story’ was an offer I couldn't resist."

"Yes," said the other three. " He's the reason we're here"

Old troupers gang up for new ‘West Side Story

The Star-Ledger

By Elizabeth Heine, Thursday, April 10, 1997

Many in Mystic Vision Players cast, crew are veterans of Linden Summer Playhouse

[News ] Jil Durbin of Linden was treading on familiar ground when she took on the task of directing the Mystic Vision Players' production of ‘West Side Story.’

So was Linden resident Barbara-Jude Greco, the show's choreographer.

Both had danced as girlfriends of the Sharks in a 1985 production staged by the Linden Summer Playhouse.

For the upcoming production Greco will be taking a few turns on the floor again. This time she'll be Graziella, the girlfriend of Riff, leader of the Jets, rival street gang to the Sharks.

And Riff will be played by Kevin Brady Jr. of Linden, who was 13 when he played a Jets gang member in the 1985 Linden Summer Playhouse production.

For Andy King of Scotch Plains, getting cast as the male lead of Tony - the same role he played in The Linden Summer Playhouse - is a real plum. This will be his first role with the Mystic Vision Players, he said, adding that he has attended many productions of the group, which was founded by Linden Summer Playhouse alumni in 1991 and is sponsored by the Cultural and Heritage Committee of Linden.

"It was this role, this show, which drew me to them,"said King, an Elizabeth police officer. "It was a chance to do Tony again. I just couldn't pass that up. There are a lot of different emotions in my job that I can draw upon for the role of Tony..."

The production is more than a reunion of former Playhouse members. It's also given them the chance to work again with their mentor, Tom Pedas of Roselle, who founded the Linden Summer Playhouse in 1971 and continued as director and music director for the next 17 years.

Pedas will be music director for the Mystic Vision Players' production of West Side Story. "I always hoped that I'd get a chance to work with Tom again, "said Durbin, who serves as vice president of the Mystic Vision Players. "He's a master musician and an incredible teacher. But in my wildest dreams, I never imagined I'd be working on an even par with him on a production in my own theater company. It's incredible."

"It's rewarding to see that two of my students are now directors," Pedas said of Durbin and Greco. "And it feels good to see that I've influenced so many young people."

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