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Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015 12:10 am

West Side wows

Anita (Cami Kern), Rosalita (Zoey Zara) and the shark girls.


The events that have made headlines throughout this past year make me question how much progress we’ve actually made since that time. [West Side Story] While this story takes place on the streets of New York, its message is applicable to more than one address and echoes true still today, some 50 years after its first run on Broadway. Hopefully, our production leads to intelligent and respectful discussion about themes of this story and why this show continues to be relevant. –Anna Bussing, director

As the sun sets into the backdrop of a beautiful thicket, a group of men quietly enter the stage, each dressed unassumingly in jeans and a T-shirt. The orchestra begins and we are catapulted into a magnificently choreographed street dance. The Jets, a New York based gang of self-proclaimed “hoodlums” fight to keep their territory against the Puerto Rican gang, the Sharks. This is the opening of West Side Story, at Springfield’s Muni, and has opened this way since its premiere at The Winter Garden Theater in New York on Sept. 26, 1957.

In West Side Story, (music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by Arthur Laurents) based on William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, we see beautiful Verona transformed into the streets of New York City, the Capulet and Montague families become the Jets and the Sharks, the balcony scene turned into a fire escape in a dirty alley and Romeo and Juliet become Tony and Maria. There are many parallels to the stories, both conveying the message that hate and rivalry never end well and tolerance is the way to go.

Maria (Bailee Brinkman) and Tony (Rigoberto Ernst) sing “One Hand, One Heart,” in the Bridal Shop scene.

Although I enjoyed the entire musical theater experience as a whole, it was the choreography that drew me into the drama. Stage tensions were high during the prologue, the gym dance and the rumble. Sword and knife fights are difficult to stage, but, thanks to the dancing talents of the Jets and the Sharks and the impeccable vision of fight choreographer Connor MacNamara, the audience was drawn into the rumble and stayed there, riveted until the end. These dance scenes are meant to symbolize the tension and release of multicultural conflict with the tension and release of the dancers’ muscles. MacNamara’s succinctly planned movements and dances were able to illustrate that sentiment.

Bailee Brinkman (Maria), will be a senior at Glenwood High School this fall. Brinkman’s performance was absolutely stunning. Her voice soars over the orchestra with finesse and musicality. As Maria and Tony, Brinkman and Rigoberto Ernst, a fourth-year vocal performance student at the prestigious Juilliard School of Music, literally made beautiful music together. In numbers such as “One Hand, One Heart” the combination of gorgeous voices, dramatic lighting and the performers’ passion for their art moves us to smiles and tears.

Act 1, Scene Two included all the favorite songs from West Side Story. The coquettish “I Feel Pretty” was performed with lightness and wit. The Ballet Sequence and the “Scherzo” were interestingly choreographed. This, combined with the talent and athleticism of the dancers, made the number a joy to watch.

Audience favorites included the duets between Maria and Anita (Cami Kern), “A Boy Like That” and “I Have a Love,” the Balcony Scene where the entire cast performed “Tonight” and the social commentary on how society tries to manage juvenile delinquency in “Officer Krupke.” The children (Charles Eastvold, Linden Neposchlan, Olivia Pennell, Trent Tholen and Leeza Zavelsky) contributed to the talent on stage with their wonderful performances in “Somewhere.”

Being “Cool” with the Jets.

The striking sets of the Drugstore, Bridal Shop and the Cellar scenes are the vision of artistic director Craig Williams II. A few of the many other talents who contributed to this wonderful show include Laurie Barnes (lighting), Daniel Shelton (sound), DJ Schultz (vocal director), Jake Smith (producer), Anna Bussing (director/choreographer), Julie Ratz (assistant director/choreographer) and Connor MacNamara (fight scene choreographer).

West Side Story is a heart-rending triumph at the Muni this summer. All the actors and actresses combine their musical theater experience and talents to bring the characters to life. The musical is rife with social commentary, applicable both then and now, and the talented Muni crew has succeeded in getting the message across. If you haven’t been to the Muni this year, I highly encourage you to go. Enjoy the open-air environment, friendly staff and volunteers, and the wonderful theater experience we are fortunate to have here in Springfield.

Theresa O’Hare of Springfield teaches flute, piccolo and Irish whistle in her own private studio and is an adjunct music faculty member at Lincoln Land Community College.

Performances: Aug. 13-15 and 20-22, 8PM.

Reserved seating: Adults: $14, seniors/ military/students/children: $12
General admission: Adults: $10, seniors/ military/students $8, children (3-12) $6
793-6864 or

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