WEST SIDE STORY
Book by Arthur Laurents
Music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Tyler Civic Theatre Center
Entire Original Production Directed and Choreographed by Jerome Robbins
Directed by Steve Jones
Assistant Direction by Victoria Dickson
Choreography by Nicholas Sheffield
Produced by David Dickerson, Melissa Comes, Martha Jane Wallace
Music Direction by Emily Boron
Stage Manager- Jackson Holmes
Costume Director- Ethan Gonzalez
Technical Direction by Dave Dickson
Tyler Civic Theatre
Collin Skelton (Riff)
Fritz Hager (Tony)
Colton Turner (Action)
Jalen Tinsley (Arab)
Zach Combs (Baby John)
Andrew Cremers (Snowboy)
Pack Williams (Big Deal)
Cooper Hullum (Diesel)
Sam Murphy (Gee-Tar)
Allie Lake (Graziella)
Allyson Davis (Velma)
Ydia Kaiser (Clarice)
Sydney Skelton (Pauline)
Macy Mae Cowart (Anybodys)
Bailey Belyeu (Debra)
Carter Wells (Sherry)
Jon Dickson (Bernardo)
Jasmine Martinez (Maria)
Lizzy Tucker (Anita)
Edmund Davies (Chino)
Chris Fisher (Pepe)
Ethan Gonzalez (Toro)
Nicholas Sheffield (Anxious)
Jack Ragland (Nibbles)
Robert Ramos (Juano)
Sarabeth Wallace (Rosalia)
Victoria Dickson (Consuela)
Airelle Rollins (Teresita)
Joanny Puentes (Francisca)
Kileigh Johnson (Estella)
Ashley Soto (Valeria)
Dwain Hare (Doc)
Dave Dickson (Schrank)
Allison Cambre (Krupke)
Amanda Kattengell (Glad Hand)
Rose Moranda (Glad Hand)
Reviewed Performance: 7/25/2021
Reviewed by Tracy Jordan, Guest Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Two years ago, this month I attended a Tyler Civic Theatre Center performance of Disney’s Newsies and were extremely impressed by the talent on display in east Texas. Last July, I was invited to attend a production of West Side Story by director Steven Jones, but travel plans were cut short when the performance run was canceled due to COVID. Fast forward to this year and the cast and creative team have been brought back together and the production remounted. So, I gassed up the car and headed to Tyler with great expectations of seeing another strong performance- and I was not disappointed.
The story of West Side Story is a compelling one, Jerome Robbins’ modern adaptation of the Shakespearean Romeo & Juliet with the conflict of the Sharks and Jets street gangs of New York City’s West Side standing in for the feud between the Montague and Capulet families. The story of how this production came together is a compelling one in and of itself and adds poignancy to the overall experience.
Steve Jones, native of Tyler, was brought on to choreograph. A veteran of no less than four national and international tours of West Side Story, all staged and choreographed by original WSS cast member Alan Johnson and overseen by creator Jerome Robbins. Jones had seen the 2019 Tyler Civic Theatre Center’s Newsies, been impressed with the talent and welcomed the challenge of teaching the original dance moves to these young actors. Alas, the best laid plans…
The original effort, scheduled for the summer of 2020 was put on indefinite hold, as were so many plans of countless people and organizations with the arrival on the scene of COVID. The cast had rehearsed and was on the verge of opening when the lights went dark in their theater as they did in so many theaters across the country. With no guarantee that things would or could be brought back to life, the cast and crew went on with their lives as best they could like the rest of us.
Leap ahead one year- the original directors have moved to San Antonio, so Jones takes on the directing responsibilities as well and the cast is back for Round Two. Liberal amounts of praise should be given not only to Jones, who has done an excellent job passing the Robbins legacy to a new generation of performers, but to these young performers themselves, who have clearly devoted much dedication and diligence to perfecting their characters and dance moves. From the first scene, and the first entrance of the Jets and Sharks, these mostly non-trained dancers’ moves exhibit the lines, the style and vibrance of kids on the street competing for space and combining stage combat with dance. The affect is that we are immediately drawn into the excitement and tension between the two groups and begin to follow the characters as they interact.
It must also be said, as far as venues go, the Tyler Civic Theatre Center is a terrific arena/in the round space, with a square performance space surrounded on four sides by seating. The actors make their entrances from the corners and there is not a bad sightline anywhere in the house. You’re up close to the action throughout and can clearly see the reactions and emotions on the actors faces.
Many of the cast members are grads of local high schools who have been away at college studying theatre or other studies and are home for the summer. Others are still in high school, participating in their local productions during the school year, and yet others have or are working professionally or have other “day jobs” while plying their theatre craft. The upshot is that there is not a weak link anywhere on this chain. Every cast member brings a total commitment to their characters and their youth lends an authenticity to their portrayals. The portrayals by the more mature actors: Dwain Hare doing a great job as Doc, Allison Cambre as Krupke and TCTC Technical Director Dave Dickson as Lt. Shrank balance the youthful exuberance nicely.
Collin Skelton, currently studying theatre at University of Central Oklahoma, as Riff, charismatically leads the Jets and tries to enlist his “womb to tomb” friend Tony to rejoin the gang in their fight against the Sharks. Fritz Hager, like so many others in the cast is a veteran of the Newsies cast and plays the dreamy and idealistic Tony well. His light, lyric tenor voice is clear as a bell on Tony’s high notes in “Maria” and “Something’s Coming,” evincing audible “oohs and ahs” from the audience as he floats the final high notes of his solos. John Dickson’s handsome looks and macho Latino bravura as Bernardo are attractive, and you can’t help but feel a sympatico for his desire to assert his position in his new environment. One of the attributes of West Side Story is that the characters are not simple good vs. bad, black, and white delineations. We are drawn into the humanity and aspirations of the characters on both sides, so the pain of the inevitable clash and its tragic consequences are doubly felt.
Lizzy Tucker, home from studying musical theater at Texas State University, is the spice in the cast as the hot-blooded Anita. She gives us a range of emotions in her character arc from lust for Bernardo, her pain at his death, sympathy for Maria helplessly in a hopeless love with a boy out of her race, resolved to help her, and her flicker of idealism snuffed out, turning into hate as she is abused by the Jets- setting up the final culmination of the tragedy to come. Jasmine Martinez, back from Texas Tech, as Maria, has a natural innocence and naiveté as the young newcomer to the scene. She is blessed with a perfect soprano voice that blends with Hager’s tenor in their duets to give us real goosebumps.
Kudos, as well, to Music Director Emily Boren, whose direction in teaching the difficult Bernstein score to the cast is impeccable. This is some of the most difficult music in theater repertoire and the cast handles it beautifully. Sarabeth Wallace, back from University of Oklahoma, as Rosalia, leads us into “There’s a Place for Us” with a beautiful solo. The many intricate parts of the Quintet as the characters prepare for the Rumble with the full cast on stage are delivered with precision and drama. Choral parts were in a word: perfect. And the affect was thrilling.
Those of us who know this show always look forward to a strong retelling of the story and as I said before, this cast does not disappoint. Every single member of the cast and crew have done their part to make this a wonderful, emotion filled theater experience.
A warning: Tickets are selling fast! No surprise there. The good news- they are playing for two more weeks, through August 8th. If you’re in Tyler or east Texas- get over to see it. If you’re in Dallas, it’s well worth a lovely drive over for a weekend matinee.
West Side Story at TYLER CIVIC THEATRE CENTER through August 8th.
400 Rose Park Dr., Tyler, TX 75702
BOX OFFICE, (903) 592-0561 Click here for online box office
BOX OFFICE HOURS Monday - Friday 10 AM - 1 PM & 2 PM - 5 PM