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Review: WEST SIDE STORY at City Springs Theatre Company

Review: WEST SIDE STORY at City Springs Theatre Company

Now on stage through July 24, 2022!

City Springs Theatre Company (CSTC) is closing their 2021-2022 season with WEST SIDE STORY. This production was directed by Daniel Kutner, making his CSTC debut! While the show itself has a tragic ending, it was the perfect decision to close the theatre company's fourth season.

WEST SIDE STORY got its origin from Broadway legends, Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Laurents, Jerome Robbins, and Stephen Sondheim. It's a "modern" (when it was originally created in the 1960s) adaptation of Romeo & Juliet. The Jets (a white gang) and their rivals, The Sharks (a gang of Puerto Ricans), are in a constant struggle for turf. Tony, a former Jet, falls in love with Maria, a new Puerto Rican in town and little sister of the leader of the Sharks, Bernardo. In a rumble-gone-wrong, both sides suffer losses, and Maria is left heartbroken.

It goes against all laws of being a Broadway lover, but I had never seen WEST SIDE STORY in any capacity. I'm familiar with the music, but I had no frame of reference for the plot details. I was lucky enough to see this production with my mother who loves WEST SIDE STORY. In her words, "I don't know how they could have made this production any better."

Often, with a show that has been around as long as WEST SIDE STORY, a creative team will come along and decide to "reimagine" it, staging it in present-day or updating lyrics (I'm looking at you RENT that was done on television). From my understanding of the show and its history, this production seemed to stay very true to the original musical.

Review: WEST SIDE STORY at City Springs Theatre Company On July 9, 2022, City Springs Theatre Company posted about an injury to the originally-cast Anita (Orianna Hilliard). With less than 24 hours before opening night, they had called upon a friend of the company to step in. Chani Maisonet - who was not even originally a member of the cast - stepped into the role of Anita, and she was an absolute dream. It felt as if she was born for this musical, and she fit in with the cast like she was there from the beginning. Though she was singing from the wings (an artistic decision that made it all the more powerful of a song), "Somewhere" was hauntingly beautiful. In most productions, Anita does not even sing this song. However, the creative team made the decision to turn the role of Anita into "Anita/'Somewhere' Soloist." With her offstage, and the cast all having a contemplative moment onstage, it was poignant.

The pairing of Tony (Ben Jacoby) and Maria (Emma Heistand) in this production was pure magic. You didn't question the fact that they met and fell in love in a single song/night because the chemistry just made sense. Both separately and in duets, they were adorable and lovable in the best way.

Review: WEST SIDE STORY at City Springs Theatre Company

As a counter to the adorableness of Tony and Maria were Bernardo (Waldemar Quiñones-Villanueva) and Riff (Ethan Zeph). As the leaders of these rival gangs, they were believable tough guys. Quiñones-Villanueva was more stoic in his demeanor, whereas Zeph was larger than life and a more physical presence. They were a perfect juxtaposition both to each other and to the leading couple.

It was impressive how the production did so much with such a minimalist approach to the set design (from Robert Andrew Kovach). There were some set extended wings, and a few vignettes brought on stage to take us to different locations. The simplicity of this set design let the actors and the staging really shine. Actors weren't bogged down in having to transport props and set pieces on- and off-stage or tripping over set pieces while they danced.

In an otherwise flawless production, I was bothered by two things. One, the wigs were occasionally distracting. With so many dance numbers, some of the ladies were left looking a little askew. Two, the casting of the Jets seemed odd. It looked like the rough and tumble Riff and Tony with their little teenage sidekicks. Though they are all written as teens, the age difference between the leaders and the majority of the gang felt stark.

Review: WEST SIDE STORY at City Springs Theatre Company

I am a sucker for large dance numbers, and this production did not disappoint. The choreographer, Cindy Mora Reiser, leaned into the strength of her dancers, making every number seem bigger and better than the last. Each member of the ensemble was able to bring a little bit of flair to their character, rounding out the production. As a former dancer myself, I wanted to jump out of my seat and join this cast, doing what they love.

WEST SIDE STORY is at The Byers Theatre through July 24, 2022. For more information and to get tickets, head to www.CitySpringsTheatre.com


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From This Author - Caroline Powell

Caroline is an Atlanta native who fell in love with the world of Broadway as a teenager. She grew up dancing, and has kept her love of performing in her veins. In her spare time, Caroline enjoys solo... (read more about this author)


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