No musical is more American than West Side Story, now playing at Parker Arts Culture & Events Center (PACE) in Parker, Colorado. The clash between the American teenage gang, The Jets, and the Puerto Rican immigrant kids, The Sharks, in New York City’s upper west side is the background for one of Broadway’s all-time favorite love stories.
When former Jet, Tony, falls in love with Maria, sister of Bernardo who leads The Sharks, the relationship is headed for disaster. Along the way, classic show tunes by Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein like “Maria,” “Tonight,” “I Feel Pretty,” and “Somewhere” continue to stir the audience, even after nearly 60 years since its 1957 Broadway debut. The play was nominated for six Tony awards that year, but lost Best Musical to The Music Man. The 1961 film won Best Picture and 9 other Academy Awards.
The story—fraught with adolescent emotions, star-crossed lovers and racial discrimination— is still relevant today, and remains a top draw on any stage.
Inspire Creative has assembled a fine cast for this production; in particular, musical theater veteran Nancy Evans Begley as feisty Anita, Bernardo’s girlfriend and friend of Maria. She gives a strong performance in her “all-time dream role.” Darien Raymond is adorable as Maria, convincing as the innocent young Puerto Rican girl dismayed by the New York gangs and their fighting. A serious Tony, played by Senhica Klee, serenades Maria in his smooth operatic tenor after being smitten at the neighborhood dance. His duet with Maria, “Somewhere, there’s a place for us,” is spine-tingling, not just for its haunting melody but for the words that capture the glimmer of hope for teens in a world of violence (“We’ll find a new way of living; will find there’s a way of forgiving.”)
The city rooftop setting by Shaun Albrechtson and costumes by Rosemary Smith portray a good picture of New York’s west side during the 50s; the only major flaw in the production is the over amplification of already strong voices. It is way too loud for the 536-seat jewel box theater and is a distraction for an otherwise excellent performance.
West Side Story is directed by Ralph Neumann and choreographed by Liane Adamo. Music director is Tanner Kelly. It plays through August 2 at the PACE Center, 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sundays and Saturday August 1. For tickets, visit www.parkerarts.org or call 303-805-6800. PACE Center is at 20000 Pikes Peak Avenue in Parker.