by Lorie Lewis Ham
The musical West Side Story opened last weekend at the Reedley Opera House, presented by Reedley’s River City Theatre Co. This cast has the distinction of being made up primarily of high school and college students, making them closer to the actual age of the characters they are playing, giving this show an extra bit of realism.
West Side Story appeared on Broadway in 1957 and marked the Broadway debut of legendary composer Stephen Sondheim, who wrote the lyrics for the show. Leonard Bernstein composed the music. West Side Story is set in an Upper East Side Neighborhood of New York, and focuses on the rivalry between two teen street gangs-the Jets and the Sharks. The Sharks are from Puerto Rico and the Jets are white. Things heat up when Tony, a Jet, meets and falls in love with Maria, the sister of the leader of the Sharks, Bernardo. This musical is based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The racial issues in this story still sadly hit home today, making this musical still very relevant.
Not only does this show provide an amazing, realistic, and heart-wrenching story, but the music is incredible. The song “Maria” has become a classic, recorded by dozens of singers throughout the decades. Other great songs include “Jet Song,” “Something’s Coming,” “America,” “Tonight,” “Somewhere (sung beautifully in this production by Jessica Ham),” and “I Feel Pretty.” This musical is jam packed with amazing songs.
The cast of this production does a great job of presenting the music and the story. Carson Rogalsky plays Tony and his voice is beautiful. Meg Clark plays Maria, and she too has a lovely voice–the two blend together beautifully in their duets. Joseph Ham plays Tony’s best friend Riff, and they also have great chemistry (fun note, in the RHS production of this show Carson played Riff and Joseph played Tony), and Joseph too has a great voice.
Samantha Sandoval is spunky and great as Anita, who is Maria’s best friend and Bernardo’s girlfriend. Samantha is not only a talented singer, but dancer as well. One of the show stopping numbers in this show is when the Shark girls perform “America.” It and “Gee, Officer Krupke” also provide the most laughs in the show. Courtney Cowin plays Shark girl Rosalia, who opposes Anita’s idea that America is great in the song “America,” and they play well off each other. There is a lot of good chemistry going on in this show–perhaps partially because the actors are much closer to the age of the characters and can truly relate and bring them to life.
Other familiar faces to the Opera House stage include DJ Reimer, who plays the Jet Big Deal, and is always fun to watch. The adult roles in this show are played by RCTC veterans, Mark Norwood, Chris Giese, and Tan Clark. The only “adult” role played by a younger actor is that of Glad Hand–played hilariously by Peter Boldt.
A couple of the many new faces to the RCTC stage in this show are Sam Szpor, who plays Action with a lot of intensity and has a lovely voice, and Juan Cruz who is intimidating as Bernardo.
There are way too many characters to name here, but each actor does a good job in their role, and musically this show sounds great!
I highly recommend going out to see RCTC’s production of West Side Story. You will be moved, you will laugh, you will gasp, you will cry, and you will go home singing the “Jet Song” and snapping your fingers!
West Side Story is on stage at the Reedley Opera House, through August 9. Tickets can be purchased via phone 559-638-6500 or online.
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