Musicals at Richter (MAR), celebrating its 33rd season as the longest-running outdoor theater in Connecticut, continues its summer season with “West Side Story,” the explosive musical retelling of the Romeo and Juliet story set against the backdrop of rival street gangs in 1950s New York City. Staged on the grounds of the Richter Arts Center in Danbury, performances take place outdoors under the stars Friday through Sunday evenings at 8:30 p.m., with additional specially discounted performances on Thursday, July 13 and 20.
With a book by Arthur Laurents (“Gypsy”), score by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, and original conception and choreography by Jerome Robbins, “West Side Story” transplants Shakespeare’s classic romance of Romeo and Juliet to the 1950s and Manhattan’s Upper West Side as two young, idealistic lovers find themselves caught between warring street gangs of different ethnic backgrounds: the Jets, born and bred New York boys; and the Sharks, immigrants from Puerto Rico. Their struggle to survive in a world of hate, violence and prejudice is one of the most innovative, heart-wrenching and relevant musical dramas of our time, and widely regarded as one of the best musicals ever written.
The original 1957 Broadway production, directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins and produced by Robert E. Griffith and Harold Prince, marked Sondheim’s Broadway debut. Featuring Larry Kert as Tony, Carol Lawrence as Maria and Chita Rivera as Anita, the production ran 732 performances before going on tour. Nominated for Tony Awards including Best Musical, it won for choreography and scenic design, losing out to Meredith Willson’s “The Music Man” for Best Musical.
The 1961 musical film adaptation, directed by Robert Wise and Robbins, starred Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Rita Moreno, George Chakiris and Russ Tamblyn. The film was nominated for eleven Academy Awards and won ten, including George Chakiris for Supporting Actor, Rita Moreno for Supporting Actress, and Best Picture.
The iconic score includes such musical theater classics as “Something’s Coming.” “Maria,” “America,” “Somewhere,” “Tonight,” “I Feel Pretty,” “One Hand, One Heart,” and “Gee, Officer Krupke.”
Directed for MAR by veteran actor, director and educator Michael Limone (Long Island), “West Side Story” features a cast of talented local performers, including many newcomers and MAR veterans. Stephen Moores (Brookfield) and Juliet Dale (Fairfield) portray star-crossed lovers Tony and Maria. Sergio Mandujano (Norwalk) is featured as Bernardo, Maria’s brother and the leader of the Sharks, and Lauren Nicole Sherwood (Stamford) is Anita, Bernardo’s girlfriend and Maria’s mentor and confidante.
Brian Bremer (Wilton) is Riff, the leader of the Jets. Fellow Jets gang members include Brian Salvador (Bethel); Andrew Kocur and Noah Matson (Danbury): Will Armstrong (Greenwich); Brian Hinger (New Milford); Jack Armstrong and Jacob Schultz (Newtown); Nathan Clift (Trumbull); and Emma Burke-Covitz (Carmel, NY).
The Sharks are represented by Simon Garcia, Victor Roldan and Tim Sheehan (Bethel); Andre Grigorio, Matthew Olencki and Brailyn Rodriguez (Danbury); and Elias Levy (Monroe).
The Jets and Sharks girls include Jillian Fredette (Brookfield); Olivia Cotter, Abigail Heiden, Cassidy Holmes (Danbury), Lilly Macfayden (Monroe); Elizabeth Koennecke (New Canaan); Teah Renzi (Newtown); Emma Giorgio (Ridgefield); Bonita Gregson (Wilton); Kristyn Vario (Brewster, NY); and Christina Kompar (Hastings-on-Hudson, NY).
Rounding out the cast are John McMahon (Newtown) as Lieutenant Schrank; Steven Taliaferro (Bethel) as Officer Krupke; Kevin McCarthy (Brewster, NY) as Doc; Robert Bria (Redding) as Gladhand; and Pam DeHuff (Pawling, NY) as Adult Soprano.
Heading up the “West Side Story” creative team is Michael Limone, who teaches acting and directs productions at Rye High School in New York, where ten years ago he created the Parsons Street Players, the high school’s after-school theater club. Prior to teaching in Rye, he ran the theater program at Stamford High School for ten years and was the Vice President of the Connecticut Drama Association. In addition to his teaching career, Limone has been acting and directing in community theater throughout Fairfield County and now Long Island, where he lives, for the last 25 years. He majored in English and Acting at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, and also studied at HB Studios in NYC.
Limone is joined by veteran musical director and conductor Zachary Kampler (Hastings-on-Hudson, NY). A professor at Westchester Community College, Kampler is the Music Director of the Sound Beach Community Band and Conductor for Saint Catherine’s Players in Greenwich. Kampler has served as Music Director for Staples Players, Bedford Acting Group, Weston High School Company, Binghamton University Theater Department and the Boys & Girls Club Theater Program. He has also conducted The Connecticut Little Symphony, Nickel City Opera, and Crystal Opera, in addition to holding the position of Assistant Conductor with the Stamford Young Artists Philharmonic, Tri-Cities Opera, and Sarasota Opera. A graduate of the Juilliard Pre-College Program, Kampler holds a B.A. in Music from New York University and earned an M.M. in Orchestral Conducting with a concentration in Opera, from SUNY Binghamton.
Handling choreography duties for “West Side Story” is Jimmy Locust (Black Rock), a multitalented master teacher, choreographer and performer who is also the founder of Stamford-based Locust Performing Arts Center. Among his many extensive credits, Locust has shared his talents internationally, working with superstars Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Paula Abdul, Quincy Jones and Debbie Allen. He has appeared in music videos and films and has performed at the Academy Awards, Grammy Awards and MTV Video Music Awards. Locust was one of the head choreographers for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and was nominated for an American Choreography Award in 2001 for his work on Warner Brothers’ television show Nikki. He worked on the Justin Bieber Tour in 2010 and served as choreographer for the CW Television Network’s The Next with hosts John Rich, Joe Jonas, Nelly and Gloria Estefan. Locust’s latest endeavor is his new South Florida dance studio Locust Dance Academy in the Miami area slated to open in August.
The “West Side Story” creative team also includes set and lighting designer Jake Liam McGuire (Brewster, NY), assistant choreographer Liana Martinez (Bridgeport) and costume coordinator (and MAR Artistic Director) Lauren Nicole Sherwood (Stamford). Katie Girardot (New Fairfield) serves as stage manager and Joyce Northrop (Danbury) is producer.
The main stage season also features the perennial family favorite “Seussical” (July 28 – August 12). For complete details on Musicals at Richter’s season, daytime Fairy Tale Theater for children and young people’s musical theater workshop offerings, visit www.musicalsatrichter.org.
Main stage musical performances are Friday through Sunday evenings at the Richter Arts Center (next to the Richter Park Golf Course, I-84, Exit 2), 100 Aunt Hack Road, in Danbury. Tickets for “West Side Story” are $ 20 for adults, $ 15 for seniors and students (with ID), and $ 10 for children 10 and under. For the additional Thursday performances on July 13 and 20, tickets are $ 15 for adults, $ 10 for seniors and students and $ 5 for children 10 and under. Tickets may be purchased through the Musicals at Richter website (www.musicalsatrichter.org) or at the door. Grounds open at 7:15 p.m. for picnicking, with curtain at 8:30 p.m. Group rates are available with advance reservation; chair rentals and soft drink/snack concessions are available on-site.
Photo credit to David Henningsen Photography
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