Guest Column: Bonzi Productions offers West Side Story

After a successful first season with The Wizard of Oz and Miracle on 34th Street, Bonzi Productions start off their second season with West Side Story (WSS).

In line with our goals of always presenting a show a bit different from what is the norm, WSS certainly falls into that category. Director Michele Bonzi’s vision was not just about two people from different worlds who fall in love, but rather the concept of unity and ethnicity coming together during divisioned times. This storyline of everyone being human and trying to live together in peace still holds true today.

Diversity existed back in the 1950s and still exists today, and always will. We should be proud of that diversity and utilize it today to become better people.

The rivalry takes place between the All-American Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks. Our version has the Jet leader, Riff, played by African-American Aaron Bolden, adding to the diversity theme. In the same breath, though, Michele also revisits the underlying story of Romeo and Juliet and parallels many scenes and feelings in the show with this classic style and story.

The talent in WSS is remarkable, with actors who can sing and dance like you haven’t seen in a long time. There are standing backflips, a group Mambo, and a run and flip up and off the stage right wall that will amaze you.

This story is an emotional one at many levels, but the final scene sums up the play and our lives today with an emotional ending.

Alyseia Smith plays Maria, and Andrew Mahan plays Tony. The innocent chemistry between these two is amazing, and their vocals are out of this world. Both have just the right amount of calm-sincerity, with a touch of spunk.

The feisty Anita is perfectly played by Sophia Araoz, and does she have a powerhouse of a voice! The Shark leader Bernardo is played with great attitude and dialect by Andrew Perez, and the Jet leader, Riff, played by Aaron Bolden, has a great mix of intensity, yet “cool” leadership.

The rest of the cast is one of the most amazing casts I’ve had the opportunity to work with. Their talents continue to blow me away on a daily basis, and their strengths raise this production of West Side Story to a whole different level.

Jill and Doug Beardsley choreographed the show, so you know it will be visually brilliant. “America,” the “Mambo” and “Officer Krupke” are show-stoppers. Michele Bonzi’s direction and concept are simply brilliant.

As one cast member said: “I don’t just get told to walk out on stage, turn left, sing and walk off. Michele really works with us and develops all of our characters and makes everyone of us feel a part of this show. I’ve learned so much from working with her.”

This is also the first show that we’ve done with a full orchestra, cleverly directed by our good friend, Steve Wolfgram. Steve and his entire group are musical geniuses, and they have to be to play this music. This is the type of music you can’t help but walk out humming and singing, but the difficulty in playing these wonderful numbers is unheard of. But, once again, we are blessed to have Steve and the finest musicians around.

The story involves two rival gangs that fight over owning their own turf, but neither gang really wants to engage in a battle; it’s simply their way of life. And although there are deaths, the show has been appropriately staged for family viewing, so everyone may enjoy this classic story.

From the costumes, to the multi-functional (almost scene-changeless) set (designed by Jim Radloff), to the dancing, singing, and tremendous bit of acting, this show is a magnificent, theatrical experience for the whole family.

West Side Story runs June 23-25 at the Hononegah Performing Arts Center in Rockton. Shows run Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are family affordable at $7 for seniors and kids 12 and younger, and $9 for adults. Call 394-8987 for reserved tickets.

From the June 21-27, 2006, issue

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