West Side Story

6th Street Playhouse, Santa Rosa
Runs through July 7, 2019

Maria (Carmen Mitchell) and Tony (Jonah Robinson). Photo by Eric Chazankin

One of the most difficult musicals to produce, with a challenging score and staging demands, West Side Story still merits the effort, delivering a cautionary tale that resonates all too well in today’s troubled times. The current production at 6th Street Playhouse gives the show an energetic and emotional rendering, reminding us why it continues to be powerful and worthwhile.

All you need to know about the plot is that it’s a modernized version of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, transplanted to mid-20th century Manhattan with rival lower-class youthful gangs of whites— the Jets— and Puerto Ricans— the Sharks. When former-Jet Tony (Jonah Robinson) and Maria (Carmen Mitchell), the head Shark’s sister, fall in love, their attempts to end the feuding are doomed to failure, and tragic consequences ensue. Neither sympathetic adults (Doc, played by Al Kaplan) nor family (Bernardo, played by Christopher Shayota), nor friends (Riff, played by Brett Mollard, or Denise Elia-Yen as Anita) are willing or able to halt the train wreck we can see coming.

The struggling immigrants are blamed for stealing territory and jobs, while the impoverished whites are labeled lazy and delinquent. Authorities are no help whatsoever, as police lieutenant Schrank (Justin Thompson) fans the flames with racism and threats. Somehow 1957 doesn’t feel that long ago….
To continue reading about this production, see the full review at Sonoma County Gazette:

West Side Story