‘West Side Story’ at Way Off Broadway Dinner Theatre

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Way Off Broadway Dinner Theatre is presenting one of American Theater’s timeless classics: West Side Story. With book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Director Bill Kiska offers an evening (and matinees) of entertainment filled with emotion and passion as young lovers Tony and Maria dare to love while surrounded by a world of conflict.

Sharing the same neighborhood but different ethnic backgrounds, the battle continues between the American gang, the Jets, and the Puerto Rican gang, the Sharks. This is proven in the opening “Prologue” instrumental that starts on the basketball court and leads to the neighborhood streets. The sharp choreography by Dee Buchanan, delivers a level of intensity full of tumbling moves as the Jets and Sharks antagonize each other to a near fight.

Mary Ellen Cameron (Maria) and Matt Rosenberg (Tony). Photo courtesy of Way Off Broadway Dinner Theatre..
Mary Ellen Cameron (Maria) and Matt Rosenberg (Tony). Photo courtesy of Way Off Broadway Dinner Theatre.

Hope comes from Tony (Matt Rothenberg) who believes “Something’s Coming,” something good and with that Tony falls for Maria (Mary Ellen Cameron) instantaneously as they lock gazes from across the room at the dance. Rothenberg plays Tony as a sweet guy who is the voice of reason. He looks toward the future with promise. Maria is exuberant about her new life in America but in a night she transitions from innocent girl to jaded woman. Together Rothenberg and Cameron sizzle as their love rapidly evolves from sweet to sensuous to sullied.

The leaders of the gangs, Riff – a Jet (Jason Spiegel) – and Bernardo – a Shark (William Bureau) – are both products of a less than savory youth. This and the influx of immigrants has these young men and their gangs at odds over their differences. Spiegel and Bureau are tough in these roles, with teeth-clenched facial expressions and tense body language, these two actors along with this up and coming cast give their all. In such highly demanding dance numbers as “Dance at the Gym,” “America,” and “Cool,” their performance exacerbated the growing hatred between the two gangs.

The standout is Anita (Tori Weaver) with her voluptuous physique and saucy attitude which makes her a very likable character. Anita is incredibly loyal to her Puerto Rican roots and loves with a great deal of passion. She and her boyfriend Bernardo are two hot tamales on stage. However, it is her scene in Doc’s drug store when she is attacked by the Jets, that is truly gut-retching. Additionally, this gal can scream and I would consider Weaver a triple-threat: actor, dancer, and singer.

Chino (Brady Love) who is supposed to be Maria’s betrothed, is shy and has a sweet face but deep down inside, he hides his anger for the Jets – especially Tony. But when he finds out that it is Tony who killed Bernardo, his anger surfaces and he is on a manhunt to take Tony out.

The Jets are comprised of Diesel (Joseph Waeyaert), second-in-command of the Jets, who moves into the lead role after Riff’s death. Baby John (Sam Buchanan) who is timid and a victim of Bernardo’s fist, whereas Action (Matthew A. Mastromatteo) is quick-tempered and always ready for a fight. A-rab (Daniel Hafer) is not as quick-tempered as Action and is also best friends with Baby John. Anybody’s (Allison Caho) is a spunky tomboy, desperate to become a member of the Jets. She is made fun of by the other Jets for her ambitions, but generally they appreciate her company. She is definitely full of energy and has a heart to help her buddies.

Velma (Kenzie Dumars), Riff’s girlfriend and a featured lead dancer fills the stage with her undeniable sultry persona especially when she dances “cheek to cheek” with her beau. Graziella (Mallory Rome), Velma’s gal-pal and Diesel’s girlfriend, is a hot little number with a fierce attitude against the Sharks. Both these gals are full of talent and energy as they show their dancing talents with a bit of prowess.

Doc (Samn Huffer) is the drug store owner who is worn out and tired from the violence among the kids. Though he says little, he speaks volumes and like Tony is a voice of reason. It is he who stops the attack on Anita as he is reduced to near tears. As Officer Krupke, Huffer is the comic relief as is the song “Gee, Officer Krupke” that is performed by the Jets gang.

Lt. Schrank (Dino Coppa) is a plainclothes policeman that is used to being in charge. Superficially, he appears to be a bit jovial, but his sarcasm is what helps him hide is fear for the youth’s lives and the bigotry the does run through his veins.

With lanky and lean physiques, chiseled features, and angry facial expressions, Pepe (Owen Migdal) and Juano (Federico Alvarado) round out the Sharks. Pepe is Bernardo’s Lieutenant who is proud of his heritage but offended by the discrimination he experienced. Still, they follow Bernardo’s lead and are loyal to their own. Rosalia (Tiara N. Whaley) is a little cherub with her big doe eyes and dazzling smile. She lends her dance talents as part of the ensemble cast. Her friend, Consuela (Hannah Gutin-Creech) is more on the tough side with bleach blond hair and sensual style, her love for Pepe is equal to her hate for the Jets.

Bill Kiska, man of many talents, contributes his experience as Customer Designer, with Flo Arnold in charge. In the beginning, the Jets (males) costumes are worn-out faded jeans and various styled t-shirts, depicting they are of a lower social class. At the dance, however, their more formal attire comprised of suits and button-down shirts, has them appearing to be more refined…or should it be said, reformed. The Sharks present themselves in a more sophisticated manner, always donning shirts and trousers, indicating a slightly higher socio-economic level.

May Ellen Cameron (Maria) and Anita (Tori Weaver). Photo courtesy of Way Off Broadway Dinner Theatre.
May Ellen Cameron (Maria) and Anita (Tori Weaver). Photo courtesy of Way Off Broadway Dinner Theatre.

The gals, both Jets and Sharks, dress very snazzy. Their casual attire is made up of crop pants (aka pedal pushers) and short sleeved sweaters, whereas the Shark gals wear comfortable dresses accompanied with decorative shawls. Their dance dresses are bright in color and brilliant in style. The Jet gal’s dresses are form fitting in blues, purples and greens with hems at various lengths. Ruffled skirts compliment the shimmering material that the Shark gals wear to the dance in purple, pink, and red.

Set Designers Bill Kiska and Jordan B. Stockdale created a street locale that doubles as the gym, Doc’s drug store, the bridal shop and Maria’s bedroom. The initial set is a series of stone walls with industrial fencing and steel girders that represents the neighborhood. Maria’s balcony and bedroom roll out from the side wings, while flipped panels transition Doc’s drugstore into a glittering dance hall and then eventually the bridal shop where Tony and Maria declare their love forever with wedding vows. Justin Kiska compliments the set and the actors with his lighting design. What starts out as day light moves toward night and darkness as the storyline moves in the same direction.

Performed in an intimate dinner theatre space, where the cast serves dinner and drinks before the show, then gives a riveting performance, it is easy to be enveloped in the emotions of these characters.

Way Off Broadway’s West Side Story it is an entertaining production well worth seeing. And in the end, whether you’ve seen West Side Story once or 100 times, one always wants to hold onto the hope that love does conquer all.

Running Time: Approximately 2 hours, with one 15-minute intermission.

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West Side Story plays through August 8, 2015 at Way Off Broadway Dinner Theatre & Children’s Theatre – 5 Willowdale Drive, in the Willowdale Plaza, in Frederick, MD. Reservations are required at (301) 662-6600, or make them online.

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