West Side Story ~ 2018

Romeo & Juliet set in 1957 New York   

Romeo and Juliet is one of Shakespeare’s best known tragedies.  With that in mind, a creative team including the best in the business – Robbins, Laurents, Bernstein and Sondheim – turned the plot into a musical for the 1950s.  But, both Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story are timeless.  A brilliant production of West Side Story is now on stage at Huron Country Playhouse in Grand Bend.

Instead of Shakespeare’s Montagues and Capulets involved in a family feud, West Side Story has two street gangs, the Jets and Sharks, in a turf war.  The Jets are the “Americans” (ironically most of them are first generation Americans, the sons of immigrant families), and the Sharks are recent immigrants from Puerto Rico.  Juvenile delinquent gangs were frequently in the news in New York in 1957.  Viewed as very controversial 61 years ago, West Side Story was declared by many as too dark to be a musical.

Tony, the former leader of the Jets, meets Maria, sister of Bernardo, the leader of the Sharks.  The two fall in love at a school dance.  A rumble between the rival gangs is planned, and Maria asks Tony to put a stop to it.  But the fight gets out of hand, with both Tony’s friend Riff and Bernardo killed.  The story is brilliantly woven together, with beautiful music leading to the rumble at the end of Act I.  In Act II, the atmosphere is lightened with Maria singing “I Feel Pretty” before she knows about the deaths.  There is also a beautiful ballet dream sequence, and comic relief as Jets members sing a funny song “Gee, Officer Krupke”.  But the harsh reality of the gang war returns in the heart-wrenching conclusion.

Amber Tomlin’s beautiful voice is perfect for Maria.  I had the pleasure of seeing Tomlin last year when she starred in Portia, the true story of black singer Portia White, Canada’s internationally-known opera star, which was staged at Victoria Playhouse, Petrolia.  She excelled in that production, so I’m pleased to see her on stage again.

Playing opposite Tomlin is David Cotton, a favourite at Drayton Entertainment, as Tony.  The star-crossed lovers’ brief romance is punctuated with beautiful duets such as “Tonight” and “One Hand, One Heart”.  Cotton belts the heartfelt ballads and hits the powerful high notes effortlessly.  His rendition of “Maria” is moving.

Another outstanding singer is Darren Burkett who plays Chino, and sings the beautiful song “Somewhere”.   Louise Camilleri as Anita and Judy Kovacs as Rosalia demonstrate both their singing and dancing skills when they face off in “America”.

The entire ensemble handles the fast-paced choreography perfectly.  In addition, the fight scenes are brilliantly choreographed, causing the audience to gasp during the action.

Sets are well done, taking the audience to 1957 in New York City.  With a quick change, we move to Doc’s Drug Store or the Seamstress shop where Anita and Maria work.

As the story comes to its tragic conclusion, audience members will find themselves reaching for Kleenex.  See this solid production of West Side Story at Huron Country Playhouse, for its superior singing, amazing dancing, and heartbreaking love story.  It’s a great start to the 47th season of Grand Bend’s theatre.

West Side Story will be on stage at Huron Country Playhouse, Grand Bend until June 23.  Tickets are available by calling the Box Office: 519-238-6000 or Toll Free 1-855-372-9866, or check www.huroncountryplayhouse.com

Photo:  David Cotton as Tony and Amber Tomlin as Maria in West Side Story, at Huron Country Playhouse.  Photo by Hilary Gauld Camilleri.

West Side Story
Based on a conception of Jerome Robbins
Book by Arthur Laurents
Music by Leonard Bernstein
Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Directed by Max Reimer
Choreographed by Lisa Stevens
Musical Direction by Mark Camilleri
Performed by Darren Burkett, Louise Camilleri, David Cotton, Graeme Gooodhall, Dani Jazzar, Alex Kelly, Shelley Kenney, Judy Kovacs, Krista Leis, Anthony MacPherson, Larry Mannell, Drew Plummer, Brad Rudy, Colin Sheen, Ashley St. John, Andrew Taylor, Brett Taylor, Jennifer Thiessen, Amber Tomlin, Aaron Walpole, Christine Watson, Jesse Weafer.
Produced by Drayton Entertainment
Huron Country Playhouse, Grand Bend
June 7 to 23, 2018.
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

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