story tease

Arts school takes bow with ‘West Side Story’

Published: 12:05 AM, Thu January, 10 2019



In the making for four years, the Chrysalis Stage is beginning to emerge.

The advanced performing arts conservatory opened in September for the fall semester. It is located in the former armory building, downtown, which has been dubbed the Armory of the Arts.

Chrysalis’ initial class has about 35 students, mainly high schoolers, from the Shenango Valley and surrounding areas, including Trumbull County.

The conservatory’s curriculum includes all phases of theater: acting, dance, stagecraft, vocal, music and management.

The students – a talented group of teenagers whose goal is a career in performing arts – attend their classes after school.

Beginning next week, they will present the school’s inaugural public performance: a two-weekend run of “West Side Story.”

The landmark musical is being directed by Joe Scarvell. Tickets are $20 ($35 for VIP seating), $18 for senior citizens and military) and are available in advance at

Scarvell is a former theater professor at Westminster College and has been a director, actor and mainstay at the Youngstown Playhouse and other Mahoning Valley theaters for decades.

He co-founded Chrysalis with Robert D. Russo, a theater management professional and Shenango Valley native

Russo is a 1983 graduate of Kennedy Catholic High School in Sharon – where he once took theater classes taught by Scarvell – and also Penn State University and Hunter College in New York.

His long career in the arts started as a stage manager. He later moved into general management with dance and theater companies in New York, and most recently with the San Francisco Ballet.

He returned to Sharon four years ago to start working with Scarvell on the Chrysalis conservatory.

Scarvell and Russo have assembled an impressive faculty, with a university professor chairing each department. Students can specialize in one field but take classes in all, and instruction is thorough and up-to-date.

“Students have told us they are so excited about what they are learning,” said Russo. “A voice student, for example, is learning about different styles of music, from classical to contemporary.”

Scarvell is the education and artistic director, and an instructor; and his wife, Joanne Scarvell, a longtime theater educator who currently is an instructor at Butler County Community College, is director of dramatic literature and critical thinking instructor. Russo is executive and producing director.

The faculty is as follows:

Tracy Schuler Vivo, visual and performing arts coordinator of Youngstown schools, is choreographer and teacher

What: “West Side Story,” presented by The Chrysalis Stage

When: 7:30 p.m. Jan. 18, 19, 24, 25 and 26; and 3 p.m. Jan. 20 and 27

Where: Armory of the Arts, 49 S. Sharpsville Ave., Sharon, Pa.

Tickets: $20 ($18 for senior citizens and military); go to

Andrew Wade, adjunct faculty member of the Juilliard School’s drama division, is voice and text consultant

Leslie A. Brown, a professional theater, opera and ballet lighting designer and part of the lighting team of the Metropolitan Opera, is scenic and lighting designer and teacher

Mihai Vilcu, co-founder of Opera Westminster, is music director, conductor and teacher

William Ambert, instructor at Westminster College, is vocal director and teacher

A semester of instruction at Chrysalis Stage is $375, which Russo says is a bargain.

“When you look at the courses and the faculty, the students are getting a semester of college for that price,” he said. In fact, a future goal of Chrysalis is to offer college credit.

Each semester will end with a production as a capstone project. The upcoming production of “West Side Story” will serve as the culmination of the fall semester.

Chrysalis’ vast performance space is a former gymnasium, with seating on risers and multiple options for staging. “It’s a huge empty space, and that is the best thing possible,” said Scarvell.

For “West Side Story,” scaffolding is being utilized to create a multi-tiered urban look. The musical, a retelling of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” is set among street gangs in 1950s New York.

The armory building is owned by Shenango Valley businessman and philanthropist Jim Landino, who – Russo said – wants to spur Sharon’s redevelopment through the arts. It’s an approach that has been successful in many post-industrial cities, said Russo, including Youngstown.

To learn more about Chrysalis Stage conservatory, go to