City Theater’s WEST SIDE STORY is Grand Theatrical Splendor

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Schuyler White as Tony and Maddy Jarvais as Maria. Photo: AudraHatch.com

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Miles Obrey (left) as Chino and Adam Gallant as Diesel stand at arms while Owen White (left, Bernardo, leader of The Sharks) and Joel Crowley (Riff, leader of The Jets) strategize The Rumble. Photo: AudraHatch.com

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James Muller (Snow Boy), Seth Crockett (Big Deal), Adam Gallant (Diesel), David Moses (Action) and Caleb Streadwick (Baby John) have fun in “Gee, Officer Krupke” Photo: AudraHatch.com

July 2016

WEST SIDE STORY debuted on Broadway almost 60 years ago, with music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by Arthur Laurents, conceptually inspired by Jerome Robbins as a contemporary musical adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, the classic tragic tale of young lovers crossing into forbidden territory, naively hoping their love for each other would eradicate the familial conflicts, racial discrimination and cultural barriers that challenged their relationship.

For Robbins’ updated version (which he directed and choreographed), Tony and Maria replace Romeo and Juliet; 13th Century Verona, Italy is now the Upper West Side of New York City, 1957; and the clash of the Montague and Capulet families are now embodied by two rival teen gangs—the Jets (White, Irish-Catholic) and the Sharks (Puerto Rican).   Changes aside (and one can only wonder what the next revised script might look like), WEST SIDE STORY is still the magnificent and universal story of young love, teen angst and the hope of overcoming social and ethnic divisions.

Biddeford City Theater’s production of WEST SIDE STORY has it all:  Copious multi-level performing spaces with pockets of built-in scenes that still comfortably give the ever-mobilized large cast room to run, jump, dance, climb, fly, roll, fight, meet, and rumble; An amazing cast of actors who can sing, dancers who can act; singers who can dance, dancers who can sing, actors who can dance; singers who can act; And an extraordinary crew who deserve highest recognition for their passion and attention to every element of production—seen and unseen.

With a reputation for top-notch local productions that rival the pros, City Theater’s presentation of WEST SIDE STORY is nothing short of phenomenal entertainment.  Director Linda Sturdivant has pulled out all the stops and has raised the bar of excellent theater to the highest level.  It’s no surprise that the cast of 36 mostly high school and young adult performers includes many favorites who are consistent, strong and bankable.

Schuyler White as Tony and Maddy Jarvais as Maria are a powerful team, blending impeccable vocal skills and emotions to their love-riddled roles.

Joel Crowley is Riff, leader of The Jets: Action (David Moses), Diesel (Adam Gallant), Big Deal (Seth Crockett), Snow Boy (James Muller), Baby John (Caleb Streadwick) and Anybody’s (Gaia Ayres).

Their Girls: Velma (Alyssa Rojecki), Graziella (Lizzie Hobbs), Clarice (Callie Cox), Minnie (Abby Randall), Pauline (Katy Albert), Connie (Katie Spagnolo), Donna (Ashley Marie) and Debbie (Hallie Scammell).

Owen White is Bernardo, Maria’s brother and leader of The Sharks: Chino (Miles Obrey), Pepe (Owen Carten), Indio (Logan Marrithew), Luis (Charlie Lees), Juano (Rodric Jones), Queso (Andrew Lamb) and Anxious (Zack LaChance).

Their Girls:  Anita (Liz Kershenbaum), Consuelo (Jessica Libby), Rosalia (Elizabeth Lester), Francisca (Autumn Rivas), Teresita (Bethany Perkins), Estella (Brianna Chu), Margarita (Nina Finocchiaro), Gianna (Kai Brown) and Camilla (Etain Brown).

The cast also included Tad Williams as Officer Shrank, Sarah Wells as Officer Krupke, Jay Jones as Doc and Kathy Demers as Glad Hand.

At the risk of sounding aloof, it’s difficult to credit individuals with outstanding performances because truly there was not one weak link on stage.  From the starring roles to the ensemble, every individual’s contribution to every character in every scene, song and dance was unmitigated creative success.

The Bernstein brand of lush, vibrant and enthralling orchestration is a huge factor to the longevity and popularity of WEST SIDE STORY.  Bernstein’s original intention was to present the material in operatic form, as “lyric theater,” but further collaboration with the Laurents-Sondheim-Robbins team led to adjustments but maintained the magnificent musical artistry.

The music controls the purpose-driven pace of the narrative, augmenting intense emotions, driving the impressive and mesmerizing dance pieces, and punctuating all the action with rich, ethereal, incidental and sometimes stunning transformations that command the performance.

To ensure the music would be righteously treated, Sturdivant recruited the talents of two of the area’s best music directors—Kevin Smith and Rebecca Rinaldi.  Both the music and singing are glorious.

The orchestra also featured Joshua Adams and Jason Phillips on percussion, Don Lauzier on trumpet, Timothy Burns on horn, Owen Doane on trombone, Blaise Spath and Ray Libby on Reed, Sam Schuth on violin and Jimmy McGirr on bass.

WEST SIDE STORY features trademark songs that define the great American music theater:  “Something’s Coming,” “Maria,” “Tonight,” “America,” “I Feel Pretty,” “Somewhere” and more.

The Schuyler-Jarvais duet renditions of “Tonight” and “One Hand, One Heart” were particularly strong.  The Shark Girls clearly had a lot of fun with “America.”   David Moses stole the show in the comic relief “Gee, Officer Krupke.” A musical high was achieved by Liz Kershenbaum and Jarvais in the powerful “I Have a Love.”

The dancing was bold and brilliant, choreographed by Mariel Roy with assistance by Adelyn Bell.  Among the highlights: The “Dance At The Gym” sequence was quite entertaining, all the dance moves by The Jets and The Sharks were exciting and riveting, especially “The Rumble” (credit to Mark Bedell for the fight choreography), and the Ballet Sequence was totally breath-taking and beautiful (special mention to Elizabeth Lester for her outstanding dance skills).

Technical salutes to Debbi Ketchum for Set Design, Jessica Chaples-Graffam for Scenic Painting, Technical Director Josh Adams, Todd Hutchisen for Sound Design and Sound Board Operator Matt Eaton, Heather Crocker for Light Design and Light Board Operator Shay Ayers, and Costume Designers Barbara Kelly and Brian McAloon…just to name a few of the dozens of crew members and over 200 volunteers who helped create beauty and grandeur on a large scale.

WEST SIDE STORY is sponsored by Biddeford Savings and runs through August 7th, on Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 PM and Sundays at 2 PM.  The theater is located at 205 Main St., Biddeford. Tickets are $20.  Call 207/282-0849 or visit www.citytheater.org.

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–Louis Philippe

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