|Jessie Jo Pauley and Drake Sherman|
Photo by Nick Woodward-Shaw; Lighting by Jeff Davis
Click here for more information on this production that runs through August 20th.
"Racial tension, murder, frayed emotions, police brutality, grief, hatred and senseless acts of violence—those are all things that America has unfortunately endured this past week due to the unfortunate deaths of several individuals and police officers. They also are many of the factors at the core of the classic musical West Side Story. This quintessential American musical is clearly still as relevant today as it was when it first appeared on Broadway almost sixty years ago. With an outstanding cast and exceptional direction, Hale Centre Theatre's production is one of the best versions of this timeless story that I've ever seen....Written by Arthur Laurents, with music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics from Stephen Sondheim, and originally directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins, it is a modern updating of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet....With themes of loyalty, friendship, and dedication to family and one's heritage, West Side Story is an emotionally moving piece of theatre...There isn't one bad song in the score....The music and lyrics perfectly complement each other, with Bernstein and Sondheim writing at the top of their game. Director and choreographer Cambrian James is also working at the top of his game. He infuses the production with electricity in the high-flying dance sequences but also establishes a clear sense of purity and intimacy in the emotionally-charged dramatic moments...Drake Sherman and Jessie Jo Pauley are stunning as Tony and Maria. ...You will instantly fall in love with both of them and feel the heartbreak their characters encounter. Both Vinny Chavez and Zoe Zamora are full of fire as Bernardo and his girlfriend Anita. Zamora is superb in portraying this raw, gutsy, and spirited yet nuanced woman....Kale Burr is Riff, the leader of the Jets. This is a character full of anger, an urgency, and a sense of reckless abandonment. Burr is delivering the best portrayal of this pent-up young man that I've ever seen, hitting every single note flawlessly....
James' choreography includes some of Jerome Robbins' original signature moves plus plenty of original steps that are incorporated flawlessly and danced with heightened energy by the entire cast. The in-the-round stage and intimate space allow for an immediacy and connection between the audience and the cast that can't be achieved in a larger space. Jeff Davis' lighting is always superb and this is his best design work I've seen. ....West Side Story...speaks to society's racial issues with an intelligent and thought-provoking simple message of acceptance and tolerance....and include a message that is timely and timeless. Hale Centre Theatre's production is outstanding and filled with realism and a poignancy delivered exceptionally by a superb cast under Cambrian James' excellent direction. It is a good reminder of the struggles that many people still face but also full of hope of the love and strength that is still possible in the world." -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)
"An East Valley production of "West Side Story" played last night like none other. The time-honored musical was staged at Hale Centre Theatre in Gilbert amid both internal and external upheaval, yet came out somehow the better for it. For director Cambrian James, the escalation of heightened racial tensions involving law enforcement sadly demonstrated the angle he'd already been emphasizing in rehearsal. "I'd told the cast, ‘West Side Story’ should be a relic by now, an antique,” James stated just after last night’s performance. “Yet, its message is more relevant today than ever. This week even more than last week or last month."...True to James’ characterization, (Drake) Sherman’s and (Jessie Jo) Pauley’s connection to one another was palpable. Tony and Maria (with impressive help from lighting designer Jeff Davis, and James's choreographic magic in the second act's ballet) on several occasions seemed intent enough on love and good will to stop time....The Sharks and Jets wrestled mightily with the art of balancing graceful ballet against rough-edged masculinity. Would that all of the gang members could clone (Vinny) Chavez in the way that he strongly leads the Puerto Rican dance corps. His presence was commanding while the smooth steps artistically flowed without detracting from a hard scrabble, embittered demeanor. Summer Farnsworth as Anybodys, the Jets' hopeful gang member whose gender prevents her admittance, was another hugely engaging supporting actor. Along with her beautifully soothing "Somewhere" vocal lead, her easy, unexpected jazz moves in "Cool" helped gel the Jets dance style...If Officer Krupke (Matthew Harris) himself was the definition of pigheaded bigotry in law enforcement, Doc (Wayne Peck) was the epitome of a peacekeeping voice of reason. As for acting prowess, Anita and Maria of last night's cast were the glue that held fast an authentic, redemptive story. Hale has so effectively persevered through internal and external challenges to create a poignant and memorable social statement through their production of "West Side Story." Suppose for a moment that maybe that's the whole point. Sometimes the world around us does explode with evil. Sometimes our internal world does unexpectedly implode. Yet through it all, the constants of love and greater purpose--against all odds--see us through." -Jennifer Haaland, Examiner.com (click here to read the complete review)