“West Side Story” has endured as a theatrical piece for its powerful songs such as “I Feel Pretty” and “America”. But it is also its social messages that continue to endure with audiences, said Emmy Kreilkamp, director of “West Side Story” at Centralia College.
Kreilkamp said she first saw “West Side Story” when she was in middle school, and she was immediately drawn to it not only for its score but also for its message.
“It’s a dramatic musical without a happy ending. It takes on serious subject matter and connects with what life is like in a huge city with crime and racial injustice,” she said. “It continues to challenge audiences to think beyond the typical notion of racial identity and see what they have in common with people, which is humanity.”
“West Side Story” a collaborative production between Centralia College Theatre and the Ballet Theatre of Washington, opens May 10 at Corbet Theatre on the Centralia College Campus. Set in 1957, “West Side Story” tells the tale of rival gangs the Jets and the Sharks, who are competing for control of the West Side neighborhood of New York. The Jets, led by Riff/Diesel (portrayed by Ryne Olson) and the hot-headed Action (portrayed by Nicholas Hall) feel superior to the Sharks, led by Bernardo (portrayed by David Ignacio Maldonado) and Chino (portrayed by Joshua Towle), who are recent immigrants from Puerto Rico. But they all walk the same streets and get hassled by the same cops Shrank (portrayed by Nicholas Strauss) and Krupke (portrayed by Christian Bruhn).
“I think a lot of people can relate to this story of different people coming together and mashing together. Society is making them mash together and there can be fighting but there’s also beauty in that,” Towle said.
The Jets’ and Sharks’ hatred toward each other is challenged over the course of two nights when former Jet Tony (portrayed by Chris Bolduc) and Bernardo’s sister Maria (portrayed by Shea Bolton) meet at a dance and fall instantly in love. Tony used to hang with the Jets but lately has been spending his time on a more legal pursuit of holding down a job working at the corner store for Doc (portrayed by John Pratt, reprising the role he played in the 2002 version of this show at Centralia College). And Maria is a more recent immigrant and does not understand why there are so many rules when America is supposed to be the land of freedom.
“I think (Maria’s) naiveté is her best attribute because it allows her to fall in love with Tony when it is forbidden,” Bolton said. “She is able to look past the gang violence and see people for who they are.”
But much like Romeo and Juliet, while Tony and Maria can see past their differences, it ,takes a little more time for those around them to see the futility of their war. Violence erupts between the Jets and Sharks and the lovers are caught in the middle.
“I think there’s an element of modern truth in it that people need to see,” Hall said. “We live in such a divisive time where people are so pitted against each other. While that is mirrored in ‘West Side Story’, these young kids cast aside their differences and try to work it out and we see when that doesn’t work out, we end up with horrible situations.”
Perhaps best known for its 1961 film adaptation, the show originated on Broadway on 1957, and that original Broadway production will see a revival opening December 2019. Kreilkamp explained that it is not always feasible for the college to offer such large productions but that it is important to occasionally make such efforts. She said the decision to produce “West Side Story” was at least partially inspired by Corbet Theatre itself.
“It’s this beautiful, huge theatre we have, and I wanted to fill it with a huge, ambitious show with a huge, ambitious set and a huge ensemble,” Kreilkamp said.
The production is a collaboration with the Ballet Theatre of Washington, the performing cast of the Centralia Ballet Academy. Traditionally, Ballet Theatre of Washington offers its own spring production (such as the 2018 “Sorcerer’s Apprentice”) but this year, owners Mick and Nancy Gunter signed on to collaborate on “West Side Story”. Nancy Gunter, working on the choreography with the cast, said 10 Ballet Theatre of Washington dancers are part of the 30-member “West Side Story” cast, while one other Centralia Ballet Academy student auditioned for and was cast in the production. Gunter said the original Jerome Robbins choreography is very complicated but truly integrated into the entire musical, so while the production will not be the entire Robbins choreography, she has used it as a framework. The exception is the dream sequence dance between Maria and Tony.
“Our company dancers told me they wanted to do the original dream ballet and I looked at it and said ‘it’s hard, but we can try,’” Gunter said. “I’d say the piece is 99 percent the original.”
Besides dancing and singing, accent work has been one of the more challenging aspects of the show for those playing the Jets and their girls. Charlotte Darling (portraying Bernardo’s love, Anita) said the cast has worked with a dialect coach as well as native-Spanish speaker Ignacio Maldonado (portraying Bernardo) to perfect their accents.
“It’s so much pressure when you know a lot more people speak the language and will notice if we do something wrong,” Darling said.
A 12-member orchestra, led by Paul Brassey, will provide the original Leonard Bernstein music for each production of “West Side Story.”
Kreilkamp explained that, like the cast, the orchestra comprises current Centralia College students, current and former Centralia College faculty and community members. And even the set represents a collaborative effort as the Centralia College welding club created Maria’s famous balcony for the piece.
If you go
What: Centralia College Theatre and Ballet Theatre of Washington present “West Side Story”
When: May 10-19, 4 and 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays
Where: Corbet Theatre in Washington Hall on the Centralia College Campus
Tickets: $12 adults/$10 students and seniors. Tickets can be purchased by calling (360) 623-8871 or online at https://app.arts-people.com/index.php?ticketing=ccwa. Online ticket purchases are encouraged to secure the best seating and bypass lines.
Centralia College Theatre Announces Summer Program
The school year may almost be over but Centralia College Theatre is already gearing up for its next offerings.
A summer theatre program for young people ages 12-18 will be offered July 29-Aug. 10. The program will offer instruction in acting, singing, and movement and participants will write, compose and perform an original piece. Info: www.centralia.edu/theatre or contact Emmy Kreilkamp at (360) 623-8467 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Centralia College Theatre has also announced the season lineup for its 2019-2020 season. Theatrical productions next year are:
“Red” – Sept. 27-Oct. 6
“You Can’t Take It With You” – Nov. 15-17
“Fun Home” – Jan. 31-Feb. 9
“Into The Woods” – May 8-17