Riveting “West Side Story” musical is a wonder at Candlelight Dinner Playhouse

WestSideStoryThe ‘Jets’ and ‘Sharks’ spar for territory on the streets of Manhattan in superb retelling of “West Side Story” at Candlelight!

Reviewed by Tom Jones, October 10, 2015

Local gangs continue to be at war, each marking its ‘territory’ on the city streets.” Immigrants and local residents have difficulty getting along. Police officers can be ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ – depending upon your side of the argument. And all of this set to the brilliant music composed by Leonard Bernstein nearly 60 years ago – with brilliant dances based on choreography of Jerome Robins, and some of the finest voices in the area!

The original “West Side Story” opened on Broadway in 1957. Leonard Berstein’s music was heralded as among the most exciting written for a Broadway show.   His composing career included Broadway musicals, “Candide” and “On the town” plus numerous symphonies and choral classics. Music critic Donal Hehahan wrote,”Bernstein became one of the most talented and successful musicians in American History.”  Lyricist for “West Side Story” was a newcomer by the name of Stephen Sondheim who was 26 years old. The story is based on Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” and the dark mood it portrays was overshadowed by the cheerful “The Music Man” which won the Tony Award that year as Best Musical!

Scott Severtson and Kimberly Crawford star in West Side Story at the Candlelight Donner Playhouse.  Photo Credit Garland Photography
Scott Severtson and Kimberly Crawford star in West Side Story at the Candlelight Donner Playhouse. Photo Credit Garland Photography
“West Side Story,” however, went on to triumph in London and was made into a movie musical in 1961, receiving ten Academy Awards, including that for Best Movie. Stephen Sondheim wrote the lyrics for this show and later for “Gypsy,” then went on to write words and music for a host of Broadway shows, receiving eight Tony Awards (more than any other composer) and described by Frank Rich of The New York Times as “now the greatest and perhaps best-known artist in the American musical theater.”

The production now at the Candlelight is among the most sensational shows seen on the Johnstown stage! Heading the cast are Scott Severtson as Tony and Kimberly Ann Crawford as Maria. They are unforgettable! When they combine voices to sing on the balcony of Maria’s tenement house, and later when they sing “One Hand and One Heart” in the bridal shop, the audience is in reverent awe! Their chemistry is palatable! The “Dance in the Gym” sequence is one of Broadway’s most memorable scenes — when Tony and Maria first meet, dance, and fall in love.

Not to be outdone, however, are supporting players Jessica Hindlsey and Bob Hoppe. Hindlsey is terrific as Maria’s friend, Anita, and Bob Hoppe as Riff, the Jet’s gang leader, is superb.

Story looks at rivalry between two teenage street gangs of different ethnic backgrounds, in the 1950s on the streets of New York. The actual locale of the street gangs of the 50s was cleared in an urban renewal project, and is now home of the the city’s cultural triumph – Lincoln Center!

Choreography for the original production was created by Jerome Robbins. Matthew D. Peters based his choreography for the Candlelight production on the original work of Robbins. The current show is staged and directed to perfection by Donald Berlin. Casey Cropp is music director and conductor. The orchestra under his change is extremely good, especially considering the requirements of performing the near-classical Bernstein music!

Many of the songs of the original show have lasted as mainstream popular music for nearly 60 years – “I Feel Pretty,” “One Hand, One Heart,” “Tonight, “ and “Something’s Coming.” Vocal music direction is expertly provided by Melissa Swift-Sawyer.

Technical aspects of the show are flawless. Scenic design by Glenn Grassi, lighting by Katie Gruenhagen, sound by Colin Hardesty, costumes by Judith Ernst combine to provide a spell-binding evening of theater.
A word of caution. While Candlelight’s most recent production was the delightful family show “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” “West Side Story” covers more serious themes and situations – but brilliantly so!

“West Side Story” has fortunately been passed from generation to generation, since its inception in the 1960s. Its message of potential hope does not fade – nor does the incredible music and choreography!

“West Side Story”
Where: Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown
To: November 15, 2015
For Tickets: Box Office: 970/744-3747
Email: info@ColoradoCandlelight.com
Website:  ColoradoCandlelight.com