What makes a standout performance that leaves the audience gushing long after leaving the theater? The Young Artists of America at Strathmore seems to have hit upon the perfect recipe – combine a sumptuous setting in The Music Center at the Strathmore, invite a myriad of local groups for creative collaboration, assemble nearly 200 talented student musicians, welcome two opera professionals, some 30 accomplished young adult singers and guide the entire process through the outstanding mentorship and baton of YAA’s artistic leadership. The result—a performance to remember. Given that the recent West Side Story + Roméo et Juliette was a single performance, area theater lovers should pre-order tickets now for the next event in fear that they might miss the next magical installment.
The Young Artists of America at Strathmore (YAA) combined with the Maryland Classic Youth Orchestras (MCYO) Sunday, March 4 in a concert style presentation of West Side Story + Roméo et Juliette, music by Leonard Bernstein and Charles Gounod, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré.
Conceived by Rolando Sanz and Kristofer Sanz, YAA Artistic Director and MCYO Philharmonic respectively, and directed by Rick Davis, Executive Director of the Hylton Performing Arts Center at George Mason University, the concert-version show weaved together Shakespeare’s classic tale of star-crossed lovers as represented by Bernstein’s modern retelling set against Gounod’s opera performed in French. Acting as a prelude to the intermixing of musical styles to come, the evening began with the rousing pre-concert performance by the MCYO Latin Percussion Ensemble under the direction of Luis Gray.
With the lights dimmed to half, the performance began in earnest as the MCYO Symphony, under the baton of Simeone Tartaglione, brought to life classic as well as modern pieces befitting the occasion. With choices ranging from Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky to Selections from The Phantom of the Opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber, the audience was given the sense of the varied story retelling to come.
The main event began, and was later interspersed, with a brief narration from Shakespeare’s work setting the tone and circumstances of the tale. Set before the 98 piece MCYO Philharmonic and the YAA vocal ensemble, the opening narration provided a flawless means of seaming together the original work on which the entire evening was based. Going forward, scenes alternated between those from Bernstein’s modern retelling followed, in rough sequence, by selections from Gounod’s operatic answer.
For example, the production continued with Tony, the modern Romeo, preparing to help his brother-in-spirit, Riff, the modern Mercurtio, challenge Bernardo, the contemporary Tybalt, while concurrently expressing that that something new and better was just around the corner. Following, Gounod‘s young Juliette rhapsodized of her fleeting youth and hope that she would one day find love.
The format, weaving together the two tales, sprinkled with Shakespearian narration, created a mesmerizing atmosphere. Especially in such a classic piece, the intertwining and alternating of old and (relatively) new effectively highlighted the timeless theme of the star-crossed lovers struggling against forces larger than themmselves. And on those occasions when Davis chose for the characters of the different time periods to appear together on stage only further accentuated the inevitability of the tragic result.
Following a dual fight scene witnessing swordplay contrasting with switchblades, Davis deftly designed an especially poignant moment when the classic and modern Romeos each stood over the body of their unintended victim as the fallout of their rage and, consequent, horror slowly swept over them. And as the timeless Romeos were left standing with the dire results of their actions, the very palpable sense of the inevitable became that much more clear and profound.
YAA is known for bringing in guest artists to provide mentoring for the program’s student participants and the contributions of Tenor Marco Cammarota, as Romeo, and Soprano Melissa Wimbish, as Juliette, proved invaluable. Not only did they beautifully craft their respective selections but most certainly provided performance inspiration to younger players especially in a venue as imposing as the Music Center.
Wimbish was especially captivating at the onset performing the reveling Je veux vivre complete with impressive vocal runs and coquettish mannerisms. Cammarota shone equally in Ange adorable where his Roméo sang of Juliette’s beauty while gathering the courage to steal a kiss of her hand.
Appearing as Tony, Alex Stone anchored the production vocally from the younger participants’ standpoint, his dynamic vocals and acting prowess on full display. As a young man perhaps the same age as the Romeo of tradition, Stone beautifully portrayed the character’s impetuosity and love-struck enthusiasm. His rhapsodizing Maria enthralled the audience as he balanced the soaring vocals with the piece’s more poignant sections. Stone’s impressive stage command further solidified him both as the show’s cornerstone as well as a force to be reckoned with in future endeavors.
Playing opposite Stone, Hailey Giddings brought a more classical tone to Maria. The choice to cast Giddings further demonstrates YAA’s creative wisdom as the contrast to Stone’s more musical theater quality further complimented the interweaving of the pieces. Giddings’ brought a more subdued hue to her Maria highlighting the character’s naivety and gentle side. Vocally, she handled Maria’s arias admirably.
Adalia Jimenez rounded out the trio of featured YAA students in her spirited portrayal of Anita, Maria’s older and more seasoned confidant. Jimenez effectively brought forward the required larger-than-life persona of her iconic character leading the ensemble in the energetic performance of America.
She was equally adept at the required shift from the confrontational to softening in A Boy Like That. Jimenez vocals were spot-on, acting on target and presence commanding throughout the evening.
The YAA vocal ensemble, under the guidance of vocal directors Rolando Sanz and Maureen Codelka, was more than up to the task of supporting this massive production. Whether in the powerful prologue setting the production’s stage to rounding out the Tonight Quintet, the vocalists provided both nuanced as well as formidable support. Several members including Rachel Hahn, Ari Goldbloom-Helzner, Sam Nasar, Meghan Wright, and Sebastian Amoruso, helped further flesh out the production with solid solo performances. YAA further enlisted the talents of the Titanes Salseros Latin Dance Team, coordinated by Paula Peró, from Albert Einstein High School, enriching The Dance at the Gym.
Perhaps the most remarkable of performances in West Side Story + Roméo et Juliette sprang from MCYO’s Philharmonic under the skillful baton of Conductor Kristofer Sanz. These musicians adroitly navigated the challenging and varied score of these two classic musical works. That this musical display was brought forth from those so young is a true testament to the vision, guidance, and mentorship of Mr. Sanz.
As the first new affiliate of Strathmore, Young Artists of America had much to prove in this inaugural performance under the new banner. The result of their powerful rendition of West Side Story + Roméo et Juliette was nothing less than a triumph.The DC area continues to grow in stature as one of nation’s theater hubs. Young Artists of America’s work provides a powerful testament to the heights which younger members of the theatrical community can soar under the right tutelage.
West Side Story + Roméo et Juliette was performed for one performance only on Sunday, March 8, 2015 at The Music Center at Strathmore. For future events at Strathmore go to their calendar of events. MCYO’s upcoming concerts can be seen on their website. Learn more about YAA’s 2015 Musical Theatre Intensive Summer Camp here.
Meet the Soloists of ‘West Side Story + Roméo et Juliette’ Part 1: Alex Stone.
Meet the Soloists of ‘West Side Story + Roméo et Juliette’ Part 2: Hailey Giddings.
Meet the Soloists of ‘West Side Story + Roméo et Juliette’ Part 3: Adalia Jimenez.
Read the coverage of Alex Stone on DCMetroTheaterArts.
This Sunday, March 8th at 4 PM at Strathmore: Young Artists of America And MCYO Philharmonic & Symphony Orchestras Present ‘West Side Story and Romeo et Juliette’ on DCMTA.
Read all our YAA coverage on DCMetroTheaterArts.
Maryland Classic Youth Orchestras website.
Young Artists of America website.
The Music Center at Strathmore website.