by Hannah Herner
Stephen Soundheim's classic work, West Side Story has probably been performed thousands, if not a million times since it debuted on Broadway in 1957.
Few of those performances, however, come in the wake of a national tragedy as the recent Orlando shooting.
Columbus Children's Theatre always has a "why" for telling its stories, and this particular production's was "prejudice and violence are not the answer."
Before the start of the performance, an insert from the program was read expressing the company's desire to show how important it is for humankind to unite as one and show kindness to one another, especially in times of tragedy.
The Jets and Sharks serve as a symbol of the terrible ways people treat others different from themselves, and Tony and Maria's relationship across rival lines is a beacon of hope that even polar opposites can get along, or even love each other.
In reality, it didn't really matter how spot-on the performance was. The audience knew where the cast member's hearts were, and they were in a good place.
The cast was made up of CCT Summer Pre-Professional company ages 13-22, but showed professionalism and ability to adapt beyond their years with a few minor prop and costume malfunctions. Hey, it's opening night. You'll have that.
Choreographer Nicolette Montana made great use of the space available with the small stage size, mostly adhering to the original choreography that fans of the musical would recognize. I was impressed with the actors' strength in dancing and connection with their respective partners, as many of them are actors or singers first and dancers second.
The live music accompaniment also made use of the little space they had. In a space that size, I might expect them to use a pre-recorded track, but the four-piece band made a surprisingly full sound.
The downfall of this, however, is that the live music often drowned out the delicate voices of the cast members, who were not mic-ed.
Andy Simmons and Elizabeth Blanquera were certainly chosen for the roles of Tony and Maria due to the strength and harmony of their singing voices. Blanquera portrayed Maria's sweetness and innocence beautifully while Simmons channeled the quiet confidence of Tony.
A stand-out performance was made by Odette Gutierrez del Arroyo, who played Anita. She showed confidence, especially in the more dramatic scenes, and had the strongest projection of the cast.
The Jets got the biggest response from the crowd in their comedic number, "Gee, Officer Krumpke."
An especially powerful moment came near the end of the musical, when William Gorgos appeared on the balcony and sang "There's a place for us". The cast, all clothed in white, united in dreamy lyrical choreography behind him. It was a display of unison between the two groups, a divide that the plot up until that point worked to firmly establish.
In the final scene, Maria looked to the American flag, leading me to reflect on the state of the country that the character and her family worked so hard to become a part of.
Through West Side Story, CCT will show children and adults alike that it's not about what makes us different, it's about what we all have in common.
West Side Story is set to be presented Wednesdays-Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. at Park Street Theatre, 512 Park St from June 29- July 17. There will be no shows on July 1st and 3rd. Standard admission is $20 for adults and $15 for seniors and children. For more information, visit columbuschildrenstheatre.org.
Classic, Fantastic WEST SIDE STORY
by Andria Tieman
WEST SIDE STORY, the classic retelling of Romeo and Juliet set in New York City places our star-crossed lovers on either side of a turf war between rival gangs. It's a play so iconic and so familiar that even if one hasn't actually seen it, he or she has likely heard the songs and knows the names Sharks and Jets. Even if you've seen it 100 times, it's very worth stopping by Theatre by The Sea for another viewing. Sometimes a show is practically perfect and doesn't need much tinkering, but skilled direction, choreography and costumes can still elevate a classic to new heights.
There are many strengths to this production of West Side Story, and all coalesce to make it a pure pleasure to watch. The costumes are absolutely spot-on throughout, but they really create a stunning visual composition during the dance at the gym where the Jets are in pale blue and yellow and the Sharks in vibrant purple and red. All of the costumes fit their characters perfectly, and the stark contrast between the rich red and purple and the clean blue and yellow speak volumes about the rival gangs without saying a word.
Equally impressive is the choreography in this production. The cast is high-energy and every dance number is thrilling from start to finish. The small size of the stage and large cast dancing in unison create an almost overwhelming sensation of movement, but the smaller dance numbers are equally well-executed. Despite the sometimes cartoonish feeling that comes with the dance fighting that this production is known for, the tension never drops and the audience was completely sucked into the world created on the stage. The violence in the story too, is dealt with in such a way that it feels palpable, but doesn't drag down the energy. Every action is so well thought out, there's very little to critique, and it's best to just sit back and soak it in.
Of course, no stage musical can be a success without some impressive vocal talents, and this production has that well covered. Anita, played by Dana Hunter smolders on the stage and fills every corner of space with her clear and powerful vocals. Hers is a voice that is a pure pleasure to listen to, and it stands out even in a cast as talented as this. The other standout is Bronson Norris Murphy as Tony. His rendition of "Maria" is the kind of performance that can have the audience wiping away tears they didn't even know were there. In addition to his fantastic singing voice, Murphy's performance as Tony is sweet and sincere, and a good compliment to Maria's, played by Evy Ortiz, innocence, making it all the more believable that the two of them could fall in love at first sight.
Theatre by The Sea's production of West Side Story is nearly flawless, and fans and newcomers alike owe themselves the chance to experience it. This is show is a classic for a reason, and this production in particular is so well-executed that it's almost an immersive experience. The songs will be stuck in your head for days, but it's 100% worth it.
Tickets for WEST SIDE STORY are $47, $57, & $67. Musicals run Tuesdays through Sundays. Check Website for exact dates and show times. Tickets are available by phone (401) 782-8587, online at theatrebythesea.com, or in person at 364 Cards Pond Road, Wakefield, RI 02879. RUNNING TIME: Approximately 2 hrs 20 min (includes intermission)