“West Side Story,” as performed by the Columbus Children’s Theatre Summer Pre-Professional Company, is all taut energy and barely contained violence.
Its tender, romantic passages are emphasized by their brevity: They seem to exist outside the world of the main action.
The musical, with music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, demands much of its performers, who are required to be equally talented in singing, dancing and acting.
The company, which is made up of high-school and college-age performers, comes close to meeting the challenge. Its few rough spots are more than made up for by its considerable strengths.
Set in New York in the 1950s, the musical re-sets Romeo and Juliet in the world of rival street gangs. Maria (Elizabeth Blanquera), the sister of Bernardo (Matthew J. Mayer II), the leader of one of the gangs, falls in love with Tony (Andy Simmons), who has been drifting away from the other gang until he is drawn back in by friendship with its leader, Riff (Austin Ryan Backus).
When a knife fight develops at a “rumble” between the two gangs, things go horribly wrong, and the romance between Maria and Tony falls victim to escalating violence.
If some of the minor players have relatively weak voices, the lead roles have clearly been chosen for their vocal strength. Blanquera, a sweetly childlike and playful Maria, has a voice that soars seemingly effortlessly.
Simmons, though sometimes physically stiff and perhaps less passionate than Tony needs to be, thoughtfully interprets the subtleties of his songs. Their several duets are all that they should be.
Odette Gutierrez del Arroyo is vibrantly powerful as Anita, Maria’s friend and the girlfriend of Bernardo; and Rosalia (Charlotte Brown) is amusing as her foil in the dynamic “America.” Ben Teitlebaum makes a comically gangly Action in the crowd-pleasing “Gee, Officer Krumpke.”
The major drawback of having a young cast is that the older roles, particularly that of Doc (Will Thompson), who ought to provide moral ballast to the show, lack the weight they should have.
Director David Bahgat and choreographer Nicolette Montana effectively use a relatively small stage to good advantage, concentrating and focusing the energy of the music and dance numbers.
Bahgat allows each scene and musical number room to develop its own feeling and rhythm.
The broad outlines of Jeffrey Gress’ suitably grimy set, backed by brick and fenced in on the sides, enhance the feeling of entrapment, though the more specific set elements are functional and prosaic. Brendan Michna’s dreamy lighting heightens the already strong emotions, and Patty Bennett’s costumes pay tribute to the time period without being anchored to it.
The production as a whole succeeds by playing up the tension between suspenseful and neatly prolonged scenes of action and brief, poignant love scenes. Its young cast and creative team find a fresh spirit in a classic musical.