You’ve probably seen the movie, and you’ve probably seen high school theater departments — maybe even professional theater companies — present West Side Story. But I’m willing to bet you’ve never seen this classic piece of musical theater performed by elementary and junior high school kids, and certainly not with the level of energy and professionalism of the Santa Barbara Youth Ensemble Theatre.
Director Janet Adderley, founder and artistic director of the acclaimed Adderley School for the Performing Arts, did a fantastic job, drawing out surprisingly high-caliber performances from ones so young. Choreographer Alana Adderley stayed true to much of the original Jerome Robbins choreography, to which the kids did great justice. The Vintage Playboys, ably conducted by Akina Adderley, provided the big, bold sound so important to this show.
But it was the youths themselves who made Saturday night’s performance at the Lobero Theatre such an enjoyable experience. The production has two casts, though some performers play a different role in each.
A standout was McCailey Contreras as Anita, girlfriend of Sharks leader Bernardo. She embraces the character’s fiery intensity, tart tongue and inner vulnerability. Spencer Glesby, as Riff, leader of the Jets, also brings a maturity and confidence to the role beyond his years.
David Schaeman plays romantic lead Tony with a deep, clear voice and an innocent charm. Christina Buchanan, as Maria, also has a beautiful voice and an appealing sweetness, but is well able to portray less happy emotions in the final, heart-rending scene.
Cooper Umoff as Action and Malcolm McCarthy as Arab, both members of the Jets, deserve special mention for their presence and charisma, as does Kylie Transki as Anybodys, the sole girl trying to make her way into the gang.
A few adult guest stars round out the cast. Forrest Sawyer, actor and award-winning broadcast journalist, is Doc, the kindly proprietor of the kids’ drugstore hangout. Andrew Firestone, of The Bachelor fame, is Glad Hand, the comically uptight school administrator. Kevin Contreras and Peter Umoff, fathers of cast members, are Lt. Shrank and Officer Krupke.
The musical numbers were of high quality, with strong singing voices and impressive dance talent displayed by all — lots of them boys, no less! “Gee, Officer Krupke” was especially well done, and “America” was a treat as well, led by Contreras’ feisty Anita.
The last performance will be at 6 p.m. Sunday, so take this chance to see a top-notch production of the classic with a fresh, young cast.
— Justine Sutton of Santa Barbara is a freelance writer and frequent Noozhawk reviewer.