Porthouse Theatre’s production of “West Side Story” is ‘Real Cool, Boy’
It’s a story of the ages. Two factions are at war with each other. In each opposing group there is a young man and young woman who fall in love dis-regardless of the conflict. In spite of this powerful love it ends in tragedy for the youngsters and family alike.
It is said that Greek Theater influenced Elizabethan Theater that included Shakespeare who thus influenced modern theater. Case in point is “West Side Story”. Inspired by William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” the story is set in the mid-1950s in the blue collar multiracial section of the Upper West Side of Manhattan in New York City.
First staged in 1957, the Broadway production was directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins with music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Arthur Laurents. The show ran for 732 performances before going on tour. The show fared even better in London’s West End and has since had numerous revivals and international productions. In 1961 “West Side Story” was released as a movie starring Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer and directed by Robert Wise. Most recently a 2021 film directed by Stephen Spielberg was released starring Rachel Zegler and Ansel Elgort.
Two rival street gangs, the Jets (made up of white American males of immigrant parents), and the Sharks (second generation Puerto Ricans), battle for control of their neighborhood (turf) in the Upper West Side of Manhattan in New York City. A fight is broken up by Officer Krupke and his boss Lt. Schrank who chase the Sharks off.
The Jet’s leader, Riff (Zachary Mackiewicz) decides that enough is enough and proposes to his gang that they arrange a “rumble” to settle the matter once and for all. His plan is to challenge the Shark’s leader, Bernardo (Rosario Guillen) at the neighborhood dance being held that night. Riff then convinces his best friend and former Jet, Tony (Devin Lee Pfeiffer) to attend the dance as well. At first, Tony refuses. He is happy not to be in a gang and is working a real job at Doc’s (Rohn Thomas) a neighborhood drugstore. Riff wins him over and Tony is convinced that something important is about to happen.
As this is unfolding, Maria has newly arrived from Puerto Rico for an arranged marriage to Chino (Dario Alvarez), a friend of Bernardo. Maria is Bernardo’s sister and works in a bridal shop with Anita (Victoria Mesa) who is Bernardo’ girl friend. Having been exposed to life and freedom in America, Maria finds that she is not really in love with Chino. The two girls get ready for the big dance as Anita puts the final touches on Maria’s dress.
The dance begins and soon becomes a contest between the two gangs. As this is going on Tony and Maria spot each other from across the gym and are drawn to each other. As chaos unfolds around them they fall in love. Bernardo breaks up the couple and sends Maria home. Riff and Bernardo agree to meet at Doc’s for a war council. Tony finds Maria’s building and serenades her, climbing her fire escape. They kiss and promise their love to each other.
The Jets and Sharks meet and as weapons are discussed, a newly arrived Tony suggests a fist fight instead of a full out rumble. Bernardo agrees thinking that he will fight Tony but Riff has Diesel chosen as their champion. Lt. Schrank arrives trying to find out the location of the rumble but to no avail.
The fight takes place but everything goes wrong. Riff is killed by Bernardo who is then killed by Tony as mayhem in the form of a full out rumble breaks out between the two gangs. The police arrive as the gangs take off leaving the two bodies behind on the street where they fell.
No doubt about it, the Porthouse production of West Side Story is top notch. The 13 member orchestra is strong and vibrant doing justice to the score without overpowering the singers As for the cast, they are in fine voice in solos, duets and ensemble work. Most notable are Alexa Lopez as Maria whose soprano vibrato soars and Victoria Mesa as Anita who is also in excellent voice. The entire cast of Jets and Sharks give believable performances most notably the muscular Zachary Mackiewicz as Riff. Lastly, 10 year old soloist Sophia Cora steals the show with her rendition of “Somewhere.”
The set design by Nolan O’Dell is roomy for the big dance sequences that are fantastically choreographed by Martin Céspedés while quick changes in the tall fencing gives an appropriate claustrophobic mood when scripted. Cynthia Stillings does a grand job with the Lighting Design with the same praise going to Annabell Mallard with the Sound Design (although there were a couple of hiccups early on with the Tuesday show that were quickly fixed). Michelle Hunt Souza outfits the cast in 50’s appropriate garb and the Shark’s Girls dresses are stunning.
Porthouse Theatre has always been more than the show. It is the gathering of old friends and family to break bread picnic style on the spacious grounds. It is also a chance to see the future stars of Broadway as they practice their craft for the first time. This remarkable production of “West Side Story” is not to be missed. Bring the clan and enjoy a superb evening of entertainment.
“West Side Story” will be on stage at Porthouse Theatre (located on the grounds of Blossom Music Center) through August 14th, 2022. For more information and tickets go to https://www.kent.edu/porthouseor call (330) 672-3884.