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Tuesday, November 20 , 2018, 4:55 pm | Fair 66º


Gerald Carpenter: PCPA Theaterfest Retells ‘West Side Story’

The production runs through July 25 in Santa Maria, then moves to Solvang on July 30

The next production of the PCPA Theaterfest will be the mega-hit, harbinger of a new, uniquely American sensibility in musical theater, West Side Story, with a book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and — in 1957 — choreography by Jerome Robbins.

The PCPA production is directed and choreographed by Michael Jenkinson, with musical direction by Callum Morris, scenic designs by DeAnne Kennedy, costumes by Jim Tanner, lighting by Jennifer “Z” Zornow and sound by Matt Carpenter.

The production stars Mindy Lym as Maria, Zachary Ford as Tony, George Walker as Bernardo, Kevin Kiler as Riff, Sarah Girard as Anita, Billy Breed as “Doc,” Evans Eden Jarnefeldt as Lt. Shrank and Casey Kooyman as the unforgettable Officer Krupke. The show is dedicated to the honor of PCPA Foundation Director Emeritus Bob Jurgensen.

Strange as it might seem to us, West Side Story was not, when it first opened on Broadway on Sept. 26, 1957, the total smash hit it was to become in a few months time. America was hesitant about watching the story of Romeo and Juliet played out in the mean streets and tenements of a Manhattan slum, with rival street gangs of immigrants and natives as Montagues and Capulets.

We weren’t used to musicals being so contemporary, so topical, so immediate. The Tony Award for Best Musical in 1957 went to Meredith Willson’s The Music Man, though the Best Choreography Tony went to West Side Story’s Jerome Robbins — fitting, since the whole idea had been his, in 1949. The show had a successful run of 732 performances, but did not — except in retrospect — make Broadway history.

As for the show’s massive impact on the wider U.S. culture beyond the Hudson River, that had to wait four years, until Robert Wise filmed it and it became “the Ben Hur of musicals” — probably called that mainly because it won 10 Academy Awards, just one fewer than the all-time champ, 1959’s Ben Hur — but also because of the sheer cinematic scale of the movie.

After that, of course, there was no getting away from it. (I saw it seven times in the first two weeks of its run in my hometown.) The songs “Tonight,” “Maria,” “A Place for Us,” “America” and “Something’s Coming” became permanently part of the American songbook. To this day, the story never fails to move, the songs never fail to bring tears to the eye, the dances never fail to create the sensation that the audience’s own arms and legs are moving. It’s rare enough for any production to have one genius involved; West Side Story had three — Robbins, Sondheim and Bernstein.

West Side Story runs July 9-25 at the Marian Theatre in Santa Maria and July 30-Aug. 22 at Solvang’s Festival Theater. For tickets and showtimes, call the PCPA box office at 805.922.8313 (open 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday), or click here to order online.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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