“West Side Story”

Summer Theatre of New Canaan


Summer Theatre of New Canaan is currently presenting a beautiful and moving revival of “West Side Story.”  What this production really has going for it is an ideal pair of lovers in Zach Schanne and Julia Paladino, who are both pretty magnificent.  It should be noted that this “West Side Story” is actually performed under an open air tent, which somehow brings such immediacy and feeling to the show in the fact that the audience is so close to the stage.  With nuanced direction by Melody Meitrott Libonati and fine acting by the entire cast, this production of “West Side Story,” as put on by Summer Theatre of New Canaan, is most definitely worth seeing.

I just recently reviewed a different production of “West Side Story” in Connecticut, and it is interesting to compare and contrast the two revivals.  Both definitely have merit and they are equally as good, in their own ways.  Where the Summer Theatre of New Canaan really shines is in the casting of Zach Schanne as Tony.  Schanne gives a dreamy, beautifully sung performance in the role and he also brings out the innocence in the character.  That’s one thing about the production that makes this “West Side Story” so heartbreaking, in that both Tony and Maria seem so young, with a hopeful idealism that truly makes the audience yearn for their happiness together, despite knowing full well their ultimate fate.

Julia Paladino is a lovely and extraordinary Maria and she matches Zach Schanne’s Tony impeccably.  Indeed, they almost seem like two halves of a whole that, when they get together, fit perfectly.  Consequently, their duets, “Tonight” and “One Hand, One Heart” are achingly poignant and their appearance in the second act “Somewhere” ballet, in which Tony and Maria try to get away from everything around them, is all the more tragic because one knows that they can never escape.  It is doubtful that Summer Theatre of New Canaan could have found a better Tony and Maria then in the pairing of Zach Schanne and Julia Paladino.

Still, this production definitely has many other assets besides the central couple.  The scenic design by Charles Pavarini III is terrific, with the main set being the streets of New York, with set pieces moved from the sides to provide the locales of Doc’s Drugstore and the bridal shop that Maria works at, amongst others. The costumes by Lauren Gaston feel absolutely authentic and the fine lighting design is provided by Daniel B. Chapman.

And then there is the rest of the cast, who all do exceedingly well under Melody Meitrott Libonati’s sensitive direction.  Katie Stewart makes for a firecracker of an Anita, but one also sees how much she cares about Maria’s happiness, despite everything that happens in the show.  Hector Flores Jr. is a charismatic Bernardo, who believably seems like he should be the leader of the Sharks.  As the head of the Jets, Naysh Fox is a wonderful Riff and he definitely makes the most of his two big numbers, “The Jet Song” and “Cool.”  All the other actors in the show are equally good and totally embody their respective characters.

This production of “West Side Story” is interesting in that choreographer Doug Shankman doesn’t seem to borrow any of Jerome Robbins’ original steps, but still makes the dances lively and extremely well staged.  The excellent off-stage band is terrifically led by music director David Hancock Turner, and the ideal sound design is provided by Ian Loftis.

Since both the original 1957 Broadway cast recording of “West Side Story” and the original Oscar-winning 1961 film version are so indelible, it is saying a lot that one can pretty much put aside the memory of the originals and concentrate solely on the production at hand.  Indeed, this revival is consistently riveting and surprising and it is highly recommended that you bring tissues with you for the conclusion.  “West Side Story” is a show that will be produced forever and Summer Theatre of New Canaan is putting on an entirely sterling production of it.

“West Side Story” continues performances at Summer Theatre of New Canaan’s Waveny Park in New Canaan, CT through July 31, 2016.  For tickets, please visit www.stonc.org or call the box office at 201-966-4634.

Photo: Zach Schanne and Julia Paladino
Photo by Keelin Daly

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