Westside Story is a tragic love story inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. In its inception, Jerome Robbins was imagining an Eastside Manhattan family conflict between a girl who is an Israeli immigrant Holocaust survivor and an Irish Catholic Boy when they fall in love. The conflict was to be about the anti-Semitism the Catholics perpetrated against the Jews and the conflict between these families during the Easter-Passover holidays. Instead, the families are reimagined as rival New York gang members the Jets and the Sharks. Two young lovers, Tony (Polish-Irish) and Maria (Puerto Rican) are caught between the warring multi-racial street gangs.
Jerome Robbins created this musical in collaboration with internationally acclaimed American composer, Leonard Bernstein, and the famed choreographer, Jerome Robbins. Stephen Sondheim started his stellar career by penning the lyrics for Westside Story while Arthur Laurent wrote the script. The original production was so popular it ran for 732 performances before touring. In 1958 it won two Tony Awards including Best Musical. It has always been a relevant modern tale and today seems ubiquitous. There is the 2021 Steven Spielberg film repeating the Broadway play, the 1961 immensely popular film readaptation starring Natalie Wood. Even Lyric Opera of Chicago is offering an operatic version of Westside Story in 2023. Interestingly enough, Bernstein originally wanted to present this musical as an opera. Live theater performances involve the audience members with more awareness and emotion and in this recent Covid Confinement are we not anxious to break our isolation chains and see this performance on-stage as it was first produced.
Marriott Lincolnshire’s presentation of Westside Story is energetic, joyful, vibrantly colorful with an infectious Jazz and Latin vibe. Critically-acclaimed and award-winning 25 year veteran of the stage Director Victor Malana Maog projects the passion and drive of this still pertinent tale. Maog admits “Westside Story has been a dream project of mine. This production celebrates the joy of gathering around a remarkable classic and understanding the duty to make these characters–the Jets and Sharks–as whole and human as we possibly can in 2022.” Along with his superb team, musical director Jeff Award winner Ryan T. Nelson and choreographer Jeff Award nominee Alex Sanchez, Maog achieves this goal.
The cast is led by 2021 Carnegie Mellon University graduate, Lauren Maria Medina, who although debuting on the Marriott stage has a host of other theater accomplishments. Tony’s role fits him so well is played for the first time by Jake David Smith. He has credits including Disney’s Frozen, The Little Mermaid, and Escape to Margaritaville. His powerful, mellifluous voice, will leave you entranced. Vanessa Aurora Sierra as Anita is a standout performer in such a challenging role. She is proud to celebrate her Puerto Rican heritage through telling such a beautiful story. Gary Cooper as Bernando was a Broadway performer in the cast of Aladdin the Musical and an understudy for Aladdin in the touring company. He is sensational as Bernando with the right amount of bold defiance and bravado. The twenty-eight stellar cast members put on an enegetic, powerful, passionate, poignant production that will bring you to your feet in a rousing standing ovation as it did to us on opening night.
The theater in the round staging allows the audience to engage more fully with the actors although challenging for production staff. Set Designer Jeffrey D. Kimec rises to this challenge. His innovative set design really allows for high action and some comedy as the actors enter and exit the stage. The live orchestra under Music Director Ryan T. Nelson was phenomenal playing Bernstein’s familiar hits. Intimacy and Violence Director Charlie Baker deserves a shout-out for the perfectly choreographed scenes so integral to the story.
Currently, Marriott Theater guests are required to present proof of COVID-19 vaccinations and or an appropriate negative COVID-19 test and mask-up during performances for everyone’s safety. Matinees are scheduled for Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Ticket prices are reasonable from $50.00- $60.00 excluding tax and handling fees. Please call the Marriott Box Office at (847) 634-0200 for Student, Senior, Military discounts and dinner theater packages. On Wednesday and Thursday evenings there are a limited number of dinner-theatre packages available for purchase through the Marriott Theatre Box Office. To make a restaurant reservation, please call 847.634.0100. Reservations are strongly recommended. For further information contact Marriott online.
Photos: Courtesy of Heron Agency