On Tuesday, June 5, Tony award nominee Norm Lewis performed with Phoenix House clients during a special West Side Story Project session that took place at a private studio in New York City’s theatre district. Mr. Lewis, who is starring on Broadway in a revival of Porgy and Bess, treated everyone to a solo rendition of “Something’s Coming” from West Side Story before other distinguished guests and residents of the Phoenix House Career Academy added their voices.
The West Side Story Project
In September 2011, Phoenix House received a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice’s COPS Office to support the West Side Story Project (WSSP), a curriculum that uses themes from the musical to bridge cultural differences and foster positive relationships between at-risk youth and members of law enforcement. Six Phoenix House sites nationwide are participating in the WSSP.
In New York City, WSSP sessions take place at our Career Academy in Brooklyn, where Phoenix House clients and members of the New York City Police Department (NYPD) come together on Tuesday nights. Under the guidance of teaching artist Tom Demenkoff, project coordinator Bessie Oster, and Phoenix House counselor Sharon Alexander, young men in Phoenix House’s programs and NYPD officers gain a greater understanding of each other through theatre arts exercises based on West Side Story content.
June 5 Workshop with Norm Lewis and Distinguished Guests
New York City police officers participated alongside Phoenix House clients in the special June 5 workshop, which included a heartfelt discussion about the anticipation and hope we all feel when working to change the course of our lives. These emotions are the basis for the music and lyrics to “Something’s Coming,” and are experienced by Phoenix House clients every day as they work to build a brighter future for themselves and their families.
Also participating in the session were Jamie Bernstein (whose father, Leonard Bernstein, wrote the West Side Story score) and composer Jeffrey Stock, who accompanied Mr. Lewis on the piano. Rounding out the list of VIPs in attendance were Anna Laszlo, who created the WSSP in Seattle in 2007 and is serving as technical advisor on Phoenix House’s grant, and Tawana Waugh, policy analyst for the COPS Office.
Phoenix House is grateful to all of our guests for their support, with special thanks to Mr. Lewis for taking time out just days before the Tony awards – and mere hours before his next performance as Porgy – to give our clients the opportunity to work with and learn from him. It was a special day that we will never forget.