PAAC presents ‘West Side Story’

NEGAUNEE – “West Side Story” is an American musical with a book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, conceived and choreographed by Jerome Robbins, and inspired by Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”

The story is set an upper west side neighborhood in New York City in the mid-1950s. The musical explores the rivalry between the Jets and the Sharks, two teenage street gangs.

Tony, one of the Jets, falls in love with Maria, the sister of Bernardo, the leader of the Sharks. The familiar show features dark themes, challenging music, extended dance scenes and a focus on social issues that are still relevant today. Bernstein’s score for the musical includes “Something’s Coming,” “Maria,” “America,” “Somewhere,” “Tonight, “I Feel Pretty” and “One Hand, One Heart.”

Director Alfred Keefer and company present a quality production of this classic musical, successfully telling the story and conveying the often intense emotions required of “West Side Story.”

As Maria, Taylor Kulju’s acting skills and strong singing voice carry the production. Her duet scenes with Tony, played by Matt Gilbertson, are a highlight of the show.

Gilbertson is also a fine singer and presents a rather sensitive portrayal of Tony. Strong supporting performances are also given by David Gilbert as Riff, Ricky Peterson as Bernardo, Kristin Frak as Anita, Ken Myles as Doc, and Brian Sundberg as Lt. Shrank.

Music director Jane Mink presents a strong vocal show. The ensemble shines several times, especially during “Tonight.” In the absence of a live orchestra, prerecorded tracks are used in this production, adding further challenges of timing and balance. Most of the time, the singers were right on and the balance good, thanks to the tech work of Ryan Henry.

Scenic design by Vic Holliday and Alfred Keefer is effective and impressive, given the limited wing space in the Vista. Costumes by Ilean Green are colorful and add to the spirit of the production. Choreography by Kristin Frak is well crafted. A highlight is the “Somewhere Dream Ballet” featuring Miranda Roose and Luke DeWitt.

Performances continue at 7:30 p.m. today through Saturday at the Vista Theater in Negaunee. Tickets cost $12 for adults and $8 for students, and are available at the Vista Theater Thrift Shop, Johnson Drugs, Snowbound Books, and at the door.

Editor’s note: Dave Dagenais is a drama, vocal and band director for the Gwinn Area Community Schools, and has directed numerous productions for the Gwinn Schools and local community theater groups.