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Overview

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West Side Story 

Zach Schanne (Tony) and Julia Paladino (Maria)
Zach Schanne (Tony) and Julia Paladino (Maria)

Performances July 6ticket - 31 

Thu - Sat 8pm, Sun  at 4pm

Book by Arthur Laurents
Music by Leonard Bernstein 
Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

From the first notes to the final breath, West Side Story is one of the most memorable musicals and greatest love stories of all time. The book remains as powerful, poignant and timely as ever, touching upon race relations, immigration, police and community relations and gun control. The score by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim is widely regarded as one of the best ever written. 

Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is transported to modern-day New York City, as two young idealistic lovers find themselves caught between warring street gangs, the "American" Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks. Their struggle to survive in a world of hate, violence and prejudice is one of the most innovative, heart-wrenching and relevant musical dramas of our time.

 

 

Cast/Team

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Production Team

Directed by Melody Meitrott Libonati (Artistic Director)
Musical Direction by David Hancock Turner
Choreography by Doug Shankman
Costume Design by Lauren Gaston
Set Design by Charles Pavarini III
Lighting Design by Daniel Chapman
Sound Design by Ian Loftis
Fight Coordination by Dan Rankin
Linguist Coaching by Jose Plaza
Production Manager  Nathan Gray

Cast

wss cast with photos

Reviews

 WEST SIDE STORY THEATRE REVIEWS:

(see full reviews below)

 

"If You See Only One Production This Summer,

Make it STONC’s WEST SIDE STORY"

Geary Danihy, CT Theater News And Reviews, CT Critics Circle

 Summer Theatre’s "West Side Story"

Dazzles With Talent and Professionalism

Michael Catarevas, Editor NC Advertiser 

"A WEST SIDE STORY to Remember"

Brooks Appelbaum - Shoreline Times, CT Critics Circle

 "Everyone Was Mesmerized by this Stirring Production"

Marlene S. Gaylinn -ON CT & NY THEATRE, CT Critics Circle

"WEST SIDE STORY Awesome in New Canaan"

Bonnie Goldberg - Middletown Press, CT Critics Circle

A Broadway Performance in New Canaan

Rachel Lampen, HamletHub

"An Entirely Sterling Production"

By Zander Opper - TalkinBroadway.com,  CT Critics Circle

"Summer Theatre of New Canaan's Top-Notch

Production of WEST SIDE STORY"

Dave Rosenberg, Talking About Broadway.com, Norwalk Hour, CT Critics Circle

"A Fine Revival of A Classic Musical"

By Tom Holehan - CT Post / Chronical,  CT Critics Circle


Full Reviews:

The Show to Go To -If You See Only One Production This Summer,

Make It STONC’s WEST SIDE STORY".
By Geary Danihy,  CT Theater News and Reviews and CT Critics Circle

Recently there have been informal discussions amongst members of the Connecticut Critics Circle about viewing – and reviewing -- plays and musicals that have been seen many times before. One typical response has been: “Oh, not another production of (fill in the blank).” Yes, one has to labor against becoming jaded, and an antidote to the “Been there, done that” syndrome can be found in New Canaan at Waveny Park, where Summer Theatre of New Canaan’s “West Side Story” is running through July 31. From the first haunting whistle that calls the Jets together, this production sweeps you up and makes you forget you know the story, you know the score – you are once again a kid in a candy store reveling in all the delights being offered. Director Melody Meitrott Libonati and choreographer Doug Shankman have created a magical evening of musical theater that you simply don’t want to miss.

When it first opened on Broadway in 1957 (yes, almost 60 years ago) it received mixed critical response, but the musical, based on a concept by Jerome Robbins, with a book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, quickly captured the public’s imagination and became one of the most beloved musicals. Based on Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” the story focuses on two rival gangs, the Jets and the Sharks, fighting for turf rights on the West Side of Manhattan (an area that would soon be leveled to make way for Lincoln Center). Against all odds, two “star-crossed lovers,” Maria (Julia Paladino) and Tony (Zach Schane) attempt to defy racial boundaries, believing that there is a place, “somewhere,” where their love for each other can flourish.

Under the protective tent at Waveny their tragic story unfolds, and it is just about everything you could ask for. Yes, the music and songs are familiar, but the energy and intensity generated by this fine cast makes you believe that this is the first time this story has been told, the first time these numbers have been performed.

West Side Story Balcony Scene Summer Theatre of New Canaan
Paladino is superb as the young girl on the brink of womanhood, flush with hopes and dreams, giddy with the dawning awareness that she is “so pretty.” Playing against her unbridled vibrancy, Schanne creates a Tony torn by loyalties and desires. I defy you not to wipe a tear or two away from your eyes while watching their “balcony” scene.

There’s just so much energy up there on the stage that you often wonder if the tent’s fabric isn’t pulsating. The “Dance at the Gym” sequence, when Tony and Maria first meet, is sheer magic, enhanced by some nice lighting effects compliments of Daniel B. Chapman, and the “America” number is sharp, intense and witty, enhanced by Stewart’s performance as Anita, and the first act’s penultimate number, “Tonight,” can’t help but stir the soul.

The biggest revelation is the second act’s “Gee, Officer Krupke,” meant to lighten up the mood with a bit of pointed humor before the eventual dark close. It’s non-stop movement and unbridled energy, a show-stopper in every way that drew thunderous, well-deserved applause. This is immediately followed by the angry/tender duet between Anita and Maria (“A Boy Like That/I Have a Love”) as the two women mourn their losses and confront their helplessness when what the heart feels cannot be denied.

Much of the initial, muted critical response to “West Side Story” was based on the fact that it defied accepted musical theater standards. There’s no big, closing number. In its place is a body being carried off the stage and a distraught Maria standing alone, center stage, a shawl pulled up over her head. It’s been written that the opening night audience on Broadway simply didn’t know what to do when the lights went down – there was stunned silence. Such was not the case in New Canaan. The audience knew exactly what to do – get to its feet and applaud for a production that is just about near-perfect, thanks to a stellar cast and some very wise and deft direction and choreography.

If you see only one production this summer, make it STONC’s “West Side Story.” You won’t be disappointed.

For tickets or more information call 203-966-4634 or go to www.stonc.org


 

Summer Theatre’s "West Side Story" dazzles with talent and professionalism
 
By Michael Catarevas, Editor NC Advertiser

It takes chutzpah for any theater group to produce West Side Story, considered by many people, myself included, to be the greatest musical of all time. Most adults in a West Side Story audience will not only know the songs, but likely have seen the film version, which, not coincidentally, is thought to be the #1 all-time movie musical. Thus, any new stage production has a lot to live up to. Summer Theatre of New Canaan (STONC) decided to take the risk. Risk rewarded. In spades.

Now, truth be told, Hersam-Acorn, the Advertiser’s parent company, is one of STONC’s sponsors. We do not pay for tickets. And I am not a theater critic. But I am a West Side Story buff. I’ve watched the movie dozens of times. I own West Side Story CDs by Andre Previn, Stan Kenton, Dave Grusin, Ali Ryerson, the Oscar Peterson Trio, Dave Brubeck and others. I have been a regular on West Side Story’s official website and have corresponded with some of the movie’s original cast members. I saw the 2009 revival on Broadway and was thoroughly unimpressed. It was wimpy.

STONC’s is simply sensational. I attended the first preview performance on Wednesday night. It opens Friday, July 8, and runs for 17 shows through July 31. West Side Story was Leonard (Bernstein), Jerome (Robbins), Arthur (Laurents) and Stephen (Sondheim)’s ‘John, Paul, George and Ringo’ accomplishment: Four men at the peak of their powers producing legendary, timeless work. Music by Bernstein, choreography by Robbins, book by Laurents and lyrics by Sondheim. In STONC’s slightly updated version, 27 professional actors and actresses make the musical come alive. The story of two warring gangs in 1950s New York City is dated, of course, but the clever wordplay retains its charm. The elaborate, difficult song and dance numbers are simply wonderful. Watching these 20-somethings, all muscle and sensuality, dance in sometimes frenzied, sometimes moody rhythms is pure entertainment.

AmericaDancersWS
The ensemble numbers are best. Dance At the Gym, with it’s famous mambo inclusion, is special, as is Somewhere, in which the cast serenades the star-crossed lovers, Maria and Tony, while dancing in sky-blue outfits signifying heaven.

There are no weak moments or cast members, which is not unusual when you are performing a musical this famous and have auditioned over 1,200 people. It’s easy to applaud them all here, but mention must be made of the one astonishing, spine-tingling, transcendent performance.

Julia Paladino as Maria absolutely captured the stage, and never more so than when she sang. Her operatic voice had incredible, hard-to-believe emotional range and power, and it turned numbers like Tonight, I Feel Pretty and, most sensationally, A Boy Like That, into show stoppers. Her acting, in such a demanding highs-and-lows role, showcased what a dynamic talent she is.

I’d heard how great the lead shows at STONC were, but the last two, Legally Blonde and Hairspray, weren’t in my wheelhouse and I didn’t see them. West Side Story? My go-to. Go!

Read more: http://ncadvertiser.com/80817/summer-theatres-west-side-story-dazzles-with-talent-and-professionalism/#ixzz4E6aD3o5u 
Follow us: @NCAdvertiser on Twitter | NCAdvertiser on Facebook
 

 

A “West Side Story” to Remember
By Brooks Appelbaum - Shoreline Times, CT Critics Circle

“It may come cannonballing down through the sky/Gleam in its eye/Bright as a rose!” sings Tony (Zack Schanne), early on in “West Side Story.” He might as well be describing Summer Theater New Canaan’s magnificent production, running through July 31 in Waveny Park. “West Side Story” is, famously, one of the most difficult musicals of its era—the late 1950’s—but this version gets every detail absolutely right, from the furious energy, to the lovers’ chemistry and tenderness, to the pulsing choreography, to the glorious singing. Without a gimmick in sight, this production feels as fresh as if you are coming to the show for the first time. And if you are, you are more than fortunate.

Based on a concept by Jerome Robbins, and featuring a book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, “West Side Story” transposes Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” to an ethnic, blue collar neighborhood on Manhattan’s West Side. Two gangs, the Polish-born Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks, square off as immigrant enemies. Their fight for turf—literal and figurative—is painfully relevant today, as we see the Lt. Shrank (a chilling Mike Boland) instruct the Jets to clean up the neighborhood and get rid of the Puerto Ricans for him.

In a scene echoing Shakespeare’s plot, Puerto Rican Maria (beautifully played by Julia Paladino) meets former Jet Tony at a dance, and they fall instantly in love. Thus the tragedy begins its inevitable course, overseen by adults who are either, like Lt. Shrank, hatefully prejudiced, or like Officer Krupke (David Johnson) completely ineffectual, or like the good-hearted, peace-keeping Doc, unable to talk sense into the warring kids.

The musical demands remarkable technical prowess from its director, stars, and ensemble. Director Melody Meitrott Libonoti has cast the show with a perfect eye and ear, while Choreographer Doug Shankman, along with Music Director David Hancock Turner and his terrific orchestra, help to create the show’s remarkable energy, so crucial to any “West Side Story.”

From the first big number, “Jet Song,” featuring a terrific Naysh Fox as the gang’s charismatic leader, to Tony’s hopeful, delicate ballad, “Something’s Coming,” it’s clear that the production will hit every emotional and musical note. Through acting, singing and dancing, Paladino beautifully portrays Maria’s journey through girlish innocence, awakening romantic passion, and finally the furious rage of a woman. Zack Schanne is in every way her equal: a delicate, tender Tony who creates, for his Maria, a magical world where hatred has no place, until hatred proves stronger than he.

Kristen Stewart plays Anita, Maria’s soon-to-be sister-in-law and best friend, as sharply intelligent and sensually fearless. Hector Flores, Jr., as Bernardo (Maria’s protective brother), is terrifying in his hatred of the Jets but poignant, too, as the leader of the most recent immigrants, who know full well that they are the pariahs of the West Side.

Every single member of the ensemble sparkles, and those in featured roles amaze. As Action, Johnny Wexler not only exudes frightening power and energy, but he can do back flips, walk on his hands, and, in the terrific number “Gee Officer Krupke,” he nearly steals the scene, amidst a group of fabulous Jets.

Rosalia, as played by Nicole Colón, brings innocent homesickness to “America,” while Stewart’s Anita, along with the other Puerto Rican girls deliver their zingers with pizzazz. Ella Raymont, as Anybodys, the girl who wants to be a boy and a Jet, brings just the right toughness and poignancy to her role.

As with any great production of either “Romeo and Juliet” or “West Side Story,” we always hope and hope that the story will end differently. However, its ending is not only inevitable, but—as with all true tragedies—cathartic. Kudos, then, to Libonati and her cast, for playing the ending just as it should be played, with no softening. Even the company bow is restrained and in keeping with all that has just gone before. At the production I saw, Paladino’s eyes were still glistening with Maria’s tears as she acknowledged the audience’s ovation. For this critic, the tears had begun long before.

 

 

"West Side Story" at STONC - Everyone was mesmerized by this stirring production

By Marlene S. Gaylinn -ON CT & NY THEATRE, CT Critics Circle

Fists, sticks, stones, knives, guns, bombs and drones -- as the weapons of hate keep escalating, we wonder if humans will ever learn to get along? While the whole world is falling apart and no one is safe from violence, “West Side Story,” is packing a powerful punch at Summer Theatre of New Canaan (STONC).

A collaboration of geniuses: Jerome Robbins, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim and Arthur Laurents,’ “West Side Story was inspired by Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” and tales that are even more ancient. It’s a modern, yet timeless tragedy about uncontrollable human nature, and it’s also one of the best, musicals ever written.

Because of its serious subject matter, there remains a debate over whether “West Side Story” should be termed a musical. Some feel it should be considered an “Opera,” others claim it’s a “Ballet.” I admit that I’m prejudiced in this regard. As a former dancer, this work is what I call a “Dansical” -- because the dancing hardly stops.

I also have some strong, personal feelings connected to “West Side Story.” For one thing, I happened to have known Lee Becker, who played the original tomboy, “Anybodys.” We were in the same ballet class, and I can tell you that in real life she was even tougher than her character role. This young, very aggressive woman died of cancer at the peak of her career -- after forming the highly successful, “American Dance Machine Company.” One of its last performances was at Westport Country Playhouse. The dancer left a husband and a young son -- a tragedy in itself. The rest of my personal feelings will remain just that.

At New Canaan, handsome Zach Schanne (Tony), and delicate, Julia Paladino (Maria) are a perfect pair. As they blend their rich voices, they are able to project the romantic electricity between them. “The Balcony Scene“ and “One Hand, One Heart” musical numbers could not have been more tender. The livelier, “Something’s Coming” and “I Feel Pretty” are delightfully animated solos and the two singing actors dance pretty well too.

Katie Stewart (Anita) is not only a firecracker, she dances like a rocket and her Spanish accent is good. We enjoyed her and her female compatriots in the show-stopping dance sequence, “America. “ Hector Flores Jr. (Bernardo) is a suave and fiery Shark leader while swaggering Naysh Fox (Riff) is someone whom the rival Jets understandably look up to.

“The “Jets” and the “Shark” gang members and their matching girlfriends are also true to life, and it’s hard to single anyone out. Each and every musical number received thunderous audience applause. The highly amusing, Jets sequence, “Gee, Officer Kropke” is a cleverly choreographed highlight that will be long remembered. This is because the inventive choreography and clever songs describe the ironies that still exist in our society.

The only problem is the staging of the final scene. Having the climatic action take place on the floor at the extreme, side of the stage, allowed only a portion of the audience to both see and feel the sudden shock. However, the impact and sorrowful aftermath was powerful!

STONC’S production is perfectly polished, and expertly directed by Melody Libonati. Doug Shankman’s choreography bursts with the flavor of Jerome Robbins’ original, finger-snapping dance sequences. The mood lighting by Dan Chapman and the convertible, set, designed by Charles Pavarini are excellent. Equally important, the orchestra, under the sensitive direction of David Turner, rivals the intensity of any live music on Broadway.

While it drizzled steadily outside, the audience was very comfortable under the all-weather tent at New Canaan’s Waveny Park. In fact, everyone was mesmerized by this stirring production and gave it an enthusiastic, standing ovation.

Plays to July 31 Tickets: 203-966-6177
This review appears in "ON CT & NY THEATRE" July/2016


"WEST SIDE STORY” Awesome in New Canaan

Bonnie Goldberg - Middletown Press, Patch, CT Critics Circle

Rocky road is the name of a great ice cream flavor but it is also a term that can be fixed on a love relationship that fails to run smoothly. Such is the fate of the original star-crossed lovers of Shakespeare lore, Juliet and her Romeo, who have been reborn on the streets of New York in “West Side Story,” the revolutionary musical created by Leonard Bernstein’s music, Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics and story by Arthur Laurents, based on a conception by Jerome Robbins.

Summer Theatre of New Canaan is pitting the rival gangs, the Jets and the Sharks, against the fragile young love of Tony and Maria, under their giant tent in Waveny Park in New Canaan until Sunday, July 31.  Become engrossed in the rumble as the “native” Jets take on the Puerto Rican Sharks, for a piece of the streets, the territory they both seek to own. Caught in the fisticuffs that soon escalate to switch blades are the innocents, Zach Schanne’s powerful Tony and Julia Paladino’s sensitive Maria, who only want to be free to share their affection openly “Somewhere.”

Tragically the world has conspired against them. Maria’s brother, Bernardo, an angry Hector Flores, Jr., has planned she marry "one of her own kind,” which Tony certainly isn’t. Bernardo’s girlfriend, the fiery Anita, well developed by Katie Stewart, tries to help the young lovers but is thwarted in her task. Doug Shankman’s glorious choreography carries the action, propelling it forward in electrifying waves. Memorable songs like “Something’s Coming,” “Maria,” “America,” “Cool,” “Tonight,” I Feel Pretty” and “The Ballet Sequence” shine. The humor of “Gee, Officer Krupke” by a quartet of talent-laden Jets relieves the intense drama of the tale. Artistic director Melody Libonati has crafted an awesome version of this classic story, with the help of music director David Turner, set designer Charles Pavarini III, costume creator Lauren Gaston and lighting specialist Dan Chapman.

For tickets ($45,and up to tables of 6 ), call STONC at 203-966-4634 or go online to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Performances are Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 4 p.m. The theatre is located at 11 Farm Road, at the New Canaan High School entrance.

Can love be powerful enough to heal racism and put an end to gun violence?  Come discover for yourself under the big white tent in Waveny Park with Summer Theatre of New Canaan. Don’t forget to bring the kiddies to see “James and the Giant Peach” and “Cinderella” playing weekends ($22).

Past and current stars of the STONC family and of Broadway will sparkle at “A Night of Stars in Concert,” in support of education for the performing arts, on Tuesday, July 26 at 7:30 p.m. For info/tickets,go to www.stonc.org.

 

A Broadway Performance in New Canaan

Rachel Lampen, HamletHub 

Last night I went to the Summer Theatre of New Canaan (STONC), to watch West Side Story for the first time. It was incredible. This was no amateur dramatic production, but a highly polished performance. The acting, singing and dancing was first class. The set, lighting, sound and costumes were faultless. At one point I was so lost in the storyline, I had to pinch myself that I was still in Connecticut, let alone New Canaan

This is the 13th season for STONC, and we are so lucky to have this conveniently set up in Waveny Park. I took my mother, who loved the hasslefree journey and the airiness of the open theatre. There was something rather lovely, hearing the gentle patter of rain falling against the theatre roof, whilst being visually transported to the Upper West Side neighborhood in New York City during the mid 1950's. My friend was so impressed, she will be taking her daughter to see Cinderella and James and the Giant Peach over the next few weeks.

I have got to know one of the Board of Trustees, Patrice LaSusa, who tirelessly and passionately pulls together the pre and post dining partners and promotions. If you are looking for a few hours escapism – STONC is ideal.

Bravo to the Artistic Director & Director, Westside Story - Melody Meitrott Libonati. We all stood to applaud the actors. It will be sometime before I can stop thinking about these fated lovers. Good night, good night, sleep well and when you dream, dream of me tonight.

West Side Story at STONC will run through to July, 31st. Performances are every Thursday-Saturday at 8pm and
Sunday at 4pm. Tickets are $45-$60 and may be purchased online HERE or by telephone at 203-966-4634 


"An Entirely Sterling Production"

By Zander Opper - TalkinBroadway.com,  CT Critics Circle

 “West Side Story” at Summer Theatre of New Canaan
Summer Theatre of New Canaan is currently presenting a beautiful and moving revival of “West Side Story.” What this production really has going for it is an ideal pair of lovers in Zach Schanne and Julia Paladino, who are both pretty magnificent. It should be noted that this “West Side Story” is actually performed under an open air tent, which somehow brings such immediacy and feeling to the show in the fact that the audience is so close to the stage. With nuanced direction by Melody Meitrott Libonati and fine acting by the entire cast, this production of “West Side Story,” as put on by Summer Theatre of New Canaan, is most definitely worth seeing.

I just recently reviewed a different production of “West Side Story” in Connecticut, and it is interesting to compare and contrast the two revivals. Both definitely have merit and they are equally as good, in their own ways. Where the Summer Theatre of New Canaan really shines is in the casting of Zach Schanne as Tony. Schanne gives a dreamy, beautifully sung performance in the role and he also brings out the innocence in the character. That’s one thing about the production that makes this “West Side Story” so heartbreaking, in that both Tony and Maria seem so young, with a hopeful idealism that truly makes the audience yearn for their happiness together, despite knowing full well their ultimate fate.

TonyMariapress2WebJulia Paladino is a lovely and extraordinary Maria and she matches Zach Schanne’s Tony impeccably. Indeed, they almost seem like two halves of a whole that, when they get together, fit perfectly. Consequently, their duets, “Tonight” and “One Hand, One Heart” are achingly poignant and their appearance in the second act “Somewhere” ballet, in which Tony and Maria try to get away from everything around them, is all the more tragic because one knows that they can never escape. It is doubtful that Summer Theatre of New Canaan could have found a better Tony and Maria then in the pairing of Zach Schanne and Julia Paladino.

Still, this production definitely has many other assets besides the central couple. The scenic design by Charles Pavarini III is terrific, with the main set being the streets of New York, with set pieces moved from the sides to provide the locales of Doc’s Drugstore and the bridal shop that Maria works at, amongst others. The costumes by Lauren Gaston feel absolutely authentic and the fine lighting design is provided by Daniel B. Chapman.

And then there is the rest of the cast, who all do exceedingly well under Melody Meitrott Libonati’s sensitive direction. Katie Stewart makes for a firecracker of an Anita, but one also sees how much she cares about Maria’s happiness, despite everything that happens in the show. Hector Flores Jr. is a charismatic Bernardo, who believably seems like he should be the leader of the Sharks. As the head of the Jets, Naysh Fox is a wonderful Riff and he definitely makes the most of his two big numbers, “The Jet Song” and “Cool.” All the other actors in the show are equally good and totally embody their respective characters.

This production of “West Side Story” is interesting in that choreographer Doug Shankman doesn’t seem to borrow any of Jerome Robbins’ original steps, but still makes the dances lively and extremely well staged. The excellent off-stage band is terrifically led by music director David Hancock Turner, and the ideal sound design is provided by Ian Loftis.

Since both the original 1957 Broadway cast recording of “West Side Story” and the original Oscar-winning 1961 film version are so indelible, it is saying a lot that one can pretty much put aside the memory of the originals and concentrate solely on the production at hand. Indeed, this revival is consistently riveting and surprising and it is highly recommended that you bring tissues with you for the conclusion. “West Side Story” is a show that will be produced forever and Summer Theatre of New Canaan is putting on an entirely sterling production of it.

“West Side Story” continues performances at Summer Theatre of New Canaan’s Waveny Park in New Canaan, CT through July 31, 2016. For tickets, please visit www.stonc.org or call the box office at 201-966-4634.


"Summer Theatre of New Canaan's Top-Notch Production of "West Side Story" 

By David A. Rosenberg, Talkin Broadway, Norwalk Hour, CT Critics Circle

All the restlessness of youth—its vigor, its jolts, its spontaneous bursts of dynamic danger and soothing safety—energizes Summer Theatre of New Canaan's top-notch production of West Side Story.The Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim/Arthur Laurents classic is directed by Melody Meitrott Libonati with a sure touch for evoking the impetuousness of groups that have fallen into traps of tragic inevitability.

Based on choreographer Jerome Robbins' conception, the conflict between mainland Jets and Puerto Rican Sharks takes on added significance in the shadow of the nation's current travails. At the performance caught, Libonati's pre-curtain speech emphasized its relevance to the killings in Orlando, Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights, and Dallas. Derogatory names carelessly tossed about in West Side Story find echoes in a land divided by hateful tribalism and demagogic politicians.

The work, dating from 1957, ostensibly concerns itself with feuds between rival New York gangs. Based on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, the evening starts and ends with heart-tearing explosiveness, leavened by thwarted love stories. With time, the musical drama has been recognized not only as a work of art but a metaphor for class and racial clashes.

In New Canaan, although some of the dialogue scenes are tentative, the musical numbers come across with searing intensity. Later performances should acquire more assuredness but, even now, the cast sings and dances with fiery abandon.

The opening mini-ballet is prologue to murderous terrors to come. Cavorting Jets move to melodic strains that become menacing as the Sharks claim territory. Soon, a touch becomes a shove, a fist becomes a knife, someone's ear is cut and limbs fly. A rumble is promised at a school dance but something unexpected happens: Tony, once a Jet leader, falls instantly in love with Maria, a girl from the Shark side of the tracks. Their reach across the divide is woven into the fabric of the larger battle between the gangs.

There are moments when cooler heads might prevail. At the dance, when Tony and Maria meet, other couples exchange the harsh mambo for the soothing minuet. When, in act two, Tony and Maria are caught in the web of violence, they dream of a better life "Somewhere," as males and females from both sides, costumed by Lauren Gaston in diaphanous pastels, reconcile in a luminous fantasy ballet.

But Doug Shankman's choreography, though skilled, here falls short. The "Somewhere" ballet is more pretty pictures than signifier of dreams deferred. Further, the intrusion of the resurrected Riff and Bernardo, killed at the end of act one and now returned to inject reality into fantasy, is hidden upstage and loses impact.

Elsewhere, there's a similar lack of focus. "Cool" is less an attempt at controlling volcanic emotions than a hodgepodge of steps. Further, the climactic deaths—Riff's and Bernardo's, then Tony's—happen on a lower platform level and are virtually unseen by many in the audience.

Compensations abound: a plangent "Tonight" quintet, a hilarious "Gee, Officer Krupke," an exuberant "I Feel Pretty," a powerful "A Boy Like That" and "I Have a Love." The orchestra under music director David Hancock Turner gets all the brassy and percussive nuances out of Bernstein's brilliant score. Still, it's Robbins' powerful concept that makes West Side Story the major work of art it has become.

Both Zach Schanne (Tony) and Julia Paladino (Maria) have gorgeous voices. Their acting improves as the show goes along until, in the second half, they become a moving duo. Hector Flores Jr.'s Bernardo is commanding, while Naysh Fox's clean-cut Riff is equally strong. Mike Boland as Shrank, David Johnson as Krupke, and Marc Geller as the empathetic Doc do well in roles meant to show adult perplexities.

Except for Bernardo and Chino (an excellent John Paul LaPorte), the Sharks are less individualized than the Jets. The latter are idiosyncratically portrayed by Jonny Wexler, Bryan Dougherty, Donovan Mendelovitz, and Nicholas Cocchetto, with Ella Raymont as the lively camp follower, Anybodys.

As good as everyone is, it's Kristen Stewart who provides the most fireworks. Her Anita peppers toughness with generosity and love. Dancing with spirit, singing with dramatic inflections, Stewart brings out the character's remarkable ability to be ironic and serious at once, nowhere more than in the drugstore rape scene where her humiliation swiftly turns to vitriol. She anchors a show that would seem to be dated yet isn't. Unfortunately.

West Side Story is at Summer Theatre of New Canaan, Waveny Park, New Canaan, through July 31, 2016. Thursday-Saturday at 8:00 p.m., Sunday at 4:00 p.m. Tickets are $45-$60 and may be purchased online at www.stonc.org or by phone at 203-966-4634.

Based on a conception by Jerome Robbins Book by Arthur Laurents Music by Leonard Bernstein Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim Music direction: David Hancock Turner Choreography: Doug Shankman Scenic Design: Charles Pavarini III Costume Design: Lauren Gaston Lighting Design: Daniel B. Chapman Sound Design: Ian Loftis Production Stage Manager: Maria Gray Director: Melody Meitrott Libonati

Cast:  Zach Schanne, Julia Paladino, Kristen Stewart, Hector Flores, Jr., Naysh Fox, Mike Boland, David Johnson, Marc Geller, Matthew Johnson, Jonny Wexler, Bryan Dougherty, Donovan Mendelovitz, Nicholas Cocchetto, Ella Raymont, John Paul LaPorte, Joey Lucherini, Michael J. Baugh, Michael Damian Fasano, Jessica Lawyer, Kelly Loughran, Rachel MacIsaac, Nikki Croker, Nicole Colon, Samantha Sayah, Katrina Asmar, Kelsey Morales, Bennett Leeds, Savannah Lobel, José Plaza, Jessica Freedman, Dylan Thomas Kastel

 

"A fine revival of a classic musical"

By Tom Holehan - CT Post / Chronical,  CT Critics Circle

What would summer be like without an annual revival of “West Side Story”? Currently there are no less than two Connecticut productions of the sturdy Jerome Robbins classic at the Summer Theatre of New Canaan and Connecticut Repertory Theatre. I’ve yet to attend the CRT, but the rendering currently under STONC’s tent in Waveny Park is worth the trip.

Based on Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” with book by Arthur Laurents, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a glorious score by Leonard Bernstein, “West Side Story” exploded on the scene in 1957, shocking Broadway audiences with its visceral story about rival gangs in New York City and the doomed love between Tony (Zach Schanne) and Maria (Julia Paladino). The Jets (Whites) and Sharks (Puerto Ricans) are warring gangs fighting over turf and, almost immediately, the STONC revival impresses with a group of young men who convince as street toughs and who can also nimbly sing and dance. No easy feat.

Directed by Melody Meitrott Libonati with choreography by Doug Shankman, this “West Side Story” moves along as briskly as tempers between the gangs flare and the ill-fated romance flowers. It’s interesting to remember that the musical only covers two days and Shankman and Libonati ably illustrate the speedy recklessness of youth, whether the characters are seeking revenge or falling in love. The cast is up to the dancing rigors of the show with the standout being Katie Stewart playing the fiery Anita, girlfriend of Sharks leader Bernardo (a rather low-key Hector Flores Jr.). Miss Stewart commands the stage with ease especially in the high-spirited “America” and in her powerful duet with Paladino, “A Boy Like That.”

Both Paladino and Schanne convince as a couple and their voices blend effectively on songs like “Tonight” and “One Hand, One Heart,” Although Paladino’s accent wavers here and there, the chemistry she shares with Schanne is undeniable. In other roles, Jonny Wexler is excellent as the hot-headed Action who leads the Jets in one of the best renditions of “Gee, Officer Krupke” I’ve ever heard. Admirable here is the clarity of diction (from the entire cast throughout) in a complicated song that has Wexler enacting several characters while also delivering a highly athletic performance. Playing one of the few adult roles in the musical, Mike Boland’s Lt. Shrank nails the casual racism of the period which, unfortunately, still resonates today.

There are some oddly staged sections in evidence, however. The moving dream ballet sequence has the crucial characters of Riff and Bernardo blocked from view for most of the song and sight problems are also an issue at the emotional and too-rushed finale where Libonati has positioned the victim far stage right instead of down center. There is good work from costumer Lauren Gaston here especially for the dream ballet, but did she get a bulk rate for the Jets’ sneakers? They all appear identical and look brand new. Charles Pavarini III’s scenic design is functional and effective.

It probably goes without saying that it’s great to hear that wonderful score again and at New Canaan it is played by a full orchestra under musical director David Hancock Turner. I was convinced the music was a recording so rich and rewarding was the sound at STONC. All told, this is a fine revival of a classic musical that should never grow old.

“West Side Story” continues at the Summer Theatre of New Canaan in Waveny Park through July 31. For further information or ticket reservations call the box office at: 203.966.4634 or visit: www.stonc.org.

Tom Holehan is one of the original founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.

 

 

 

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STONC. The Summer Theatre of New Canaan is a 501 (c) 3 non-profit professional regional theatre company.