Review: 'West Side Story' by The Young People’s Center for Creative Arts

Nancy Sasso Janis

Over seventy students from towns including East Hampton, Portland, Middletown, Marlborough, Durham, Middlefield, Haddam, and Guilford have been hard at work this summer putting together Leonard Bernstein's musical theater masterpiece ‘West Side Story.’ The talented group of teens under the direction of Rachel Mansfield presented their performances this weekend at their new venue, the massive stage at Coginchaug Regional High School in Durham.

In her director’s note, Ms. Mansfield devotes only one small paragraph to the accolades that this musical has received (and they are many, of course) before she heaps well-deserved praise upon the young people that were a part of The Young People’s Center for Creative Arts (YPCCC) this summer. The camp has been run every year since 1982 and has taken on some other pretty challenging productions such as ‘Jesus Christ Superstar,’ ‘RENT’ and ‘Chicago;’ next season they will revive ‘Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.’ The students spend their mornings in workshops of their choosing and rehearsals take up their summer afternoons.

One of this year’s trials was “taking young men, many of whom had never had a dance lesson in their lives, and turning them into Jerome Robbins worthy performers.” The credit for the fact that they most definitely performed as such goes to these young men as much as to their two choreographers, Jennifer Friday and Jenna Cordeiro. The dancing and the fight choreography by Mason Passavant and Brian Schlosser were highlights of this fine production.

The director made some excellent staging choices throughout the two acts. One of my favorite numbers, “One Hand, One Heart,” was especially lovely and the Jet’s song “Cool” was just that. The Shark Girls danced with gusto for “America” in their tulle petticoats and the choreography for “Gee, Officer Krupke” was very effective. “The Rumble” could not have been more intense, and it stood in stark contrast to the mostly white “Somewhere” ensemble piece accented with white parasols and balloons. The “Tonight Quintet” was also staged to perfection...can you tell that I love this show?

I would be remiss if I did not mention the outstanding pit orchestra under the direction of music director Matthew Campisi. The ten musicians made this super challenging score sound it’s best and never overpowered the vocalists. Kudos to Marty Wirt on drums and Dave Uhl on upright bass on their masterful playing.

Scenic artist Barbli Pawlewitz was responsible for the urban set that featured raised platforms, brick and chain link fencing and it was beautifully lit by the lighting designed by Brian Schlosser. Sound operated by Liam Patten was almost flawless.

Playing for the Jets team was Lucas Gerolami as a very strong Riff, Matt Cote as the hyper Action, Sam Laraia as Diesel, John Nick Francesco as Baby, Mason Cordeiro as Arab, Seamus Doyle as Snowboy, Patrick Holden as Big Deal, Riley Pawlewitz as Geetar, and Chris Jillson as Tiger. Bobby DellaCamera was a wonderfully tender Tony and sang very well.

The members of the rival gang the Sharks were led by Justin Keib as Bernardo. Eric Lyons played Chino, Michael Brady was Pepe, Graham Stillman was Indio, Ryan Jillson was Luis,  Jesse McGrath was Juano, Nick White played Anxious, Alex Devin was Nibbles, and Seth Azevedo was Ricardo.

Noah Goff played the store owner Doc, and Chris Briggs was Lieutenant Shrank, assisted by Mason Passavant as Officer Krupke. Alex Devin played Glad Hand and Maddy Seale appeared as Maria’s mother. Emma Peltier and Claire Pawlewitz shared the role of the “Somewhere” soloist.

Katrina Schwartz was a lovely Maria and her fine soprano voice served her well. Carli Villa took on the role of the sassy Anita and pulled it off. The other Latinas were played well by Sierra Taylor, Bella D’Ottavio, Brianna Phillips, Emily Hackett, Caroline Crean, Carolyn Jedziniak, Shaina Dunn, Vanessa Lagerstrom, Nicole DiMare, Linda Shewokis, Ally Giza and my niece

Juliette Sasso.

We can’t forget the sultry Jets women of course. Abby Conklin and Emily Bradshaw shared the role of Anybodys. The girlfriends were played by Kate Bedingfield, Micaela Toomey, Jessica Abbotts, Becca White, Noelle Butler, Gabby Crean, Emilee Karulas, Claire Pawlewitz, Emma Peltier, Alexa Chapman and Maddy Seale and all of them danced so very well. When they appeared with the large ensemble, the stage was filled with color.

Kudos to this group of multi-talented teens and the adults who worked with them on a pretty impressive performance. I hope to be able to attend future YPCCC productions with what was a very easy commute to Durham. ‘West Side Story’ closes on Sunday with a matinee at 2:00pm and tickets are available at the door.