A tragic love story and cautionary tale of intolerance


West Side Story at Lyric Opera of Chicago (Photo by Todd Rosenberg)
West Side Story at Lyric Opera of Chicago (Photo by Todd Rosenberg)

Highly recommended

For a professional theater experience in Chicago this month you can’t do much better than West Side Story at the Lyric Opera.  This Leonard Bernstein / Stephen Sondheim musical deemed cutting edge and somewhat avantgarde when first introduced, is now a classic.

The story by Arthur Laurents is a rather faithful mid-century modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. Rival teenage street gangs, the Sharks and Jets, battle in New York City streets to maintain what they feel is control of this small piece of Manhattan. Caught in the crossfire of this conflict are Tony (Ryan McCatan) and Maria (Kanisha Feliciano) two tragic lovers from opposite ends of the divide.

The production is a natural for this venue. West Side Story leans more toward opera as the story is told primarily through song, with many that found a firm foothold in the Great American Songbook, such as Maria, Tonight, and One Hand One Heart. They are augmented by the accompaniment of a full live pit orchestra led by conductor James Lowe, a  rare treat that would likely not be included in a smaller company.

Director Francesca Zambello has largely remained faithful to the original production directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins that includes a substantial amount of modern ballet, executed here by choreographer Joshua Bergasse and the production ensemble. The Lyric’s massive Civic Opera House stage gives the dancers ample room to move.

The set design of Peter J. Davison featuring the iconic fire escape, towers over the audience. When Maria sings Somewhere to Tony as they embrace on the balcony while the dance company interprets her message of hope below, the scale of the proscenium provides an opportunity to suggest both the intimacy of the lovers as well as the suggestion of a world beyond.

The depth of the stage allows for a glimpse of the larger city, amplifying the claustrophobic feelings of the gang members whose view of the world is so limited they can not see further than their small neighborhood and the immediate “problems” that they largely have created themselves.

The story of street violence, turf warfare and ethnic battles are all too familiar in today’s environment illustrating that these often-deadly disagreements are nothing new, and difficult if not impossible to eradicate from our communities.

The “Gee, Officer Krupke” musical number comically reminds us of the continuous effort to understand and curb youthful anti-social behavior including psychology, sociology, and criminology as well as the conditions that lead to “delinquency.” Our mothers all are junkies / Our fathers all are drunks / Golly Moses, naturally we’re punks!

In America, Anita (Amanda Castro) and Rosalia (Joy Del Valle) expose the promise versus the realities of “The American Dream,” while in The Jet Song, Riff (Bret Thiele) and The Jets express the perceived value they get from being part of a gang.

I was happy to see a number of young people and children at the matinee performance I attended but caution parents to keep in mind that not all musicals are written for a Disney audience

In the nineteen-fifties and sixties there was a decisive movement to create musical theater with mature themes. Some of these included Carousel and Oklahoma (both of which have been staged at the Lyric) depicting or suggesting domestic abuse, murder and rape. This trend has continued and expanded since then, proving that the American Musical has a place in high art because it has the ability not only to entertain but also to inform, reach us emotionally in a profound way and expand our thinking.

The original West Side Story production ensemble of Laurents, Bernstein, Sondheim, and Robbins with Robert Griffith and Harold Prince did not shy away from difficult topics and instead embraced the trend by exposing the challenges related to depicting racial conflict, disaffected youth, street gang violence, murder and death, through music and dance.

West Side Story is a tragic love story that ultimately encourages us to be more tolerant and thoughtful as to how we perceive, judge and react to each other, particularly those with whom we have perceived differences. It is suggested that there is space for everyone if we open our hearts to each other.

Details: West Side Story is at the Civic Opera House, 20 North Wacker Drive, Chicago, through June 25, 2023. Running time is 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission. For tickets and information visit LyricOpera.org

Reno Lovison 

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago


West Side Story still relevant

West Side Story at Marriott Theatre Lincolnshire (Photo by Liz Lauren)
West Side Story at Marriott Theatre Lincolnshire (Photo by Liz Lauren)

4 Stars

While “West Side Story” is based on William Shakespeare’s “Romeo & Juliet,” the tale of the star-crossed lovers remains a contemporary look at rival gangs that’s just as timely as the daily news reports.

But Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire creates a dynamic new twist to this production with a fresh look and new talents who bring this story to life.

For those who haven’t seen Steven Spielberg’s award-winning recent redo of the 1961 classic movie, West Side Story takes place on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in the 1950’s.

There’s tension in the hood between the Sharks and the Jets about who controls the turf. Hate, racism and violence rears its ugly head giving way to tragedy and sorrow on both sides of the fence.

West Side Story at Marriott Theatre (Photo by Liz Lauren)
West Side Story at Marriott Theatre (Photo by Liz Lauren)

This well-loved show features the brilliant music of Leonard Bernstein with such tunes as “Somewhere,” “Tonight,” “I Feel Pretty,” and “America.”

Using the traditional choreography from Jerome Robbin’s original production, Marriott’s high energy cast delivers the dance with amazing precision and youthful energy. It will leave you breathless.

Based on the book by Tony Award-winner Arthur Laurents, music by Tony and Grammy Award-winner Leonard Bernstein and Lyrics by Tony, Grammy, Pulitzer Prize and Academy Award-winner Stephen Sondheim, West Side Story is a trifecta of creative excellence.

The production is directed by critically acclaimed, award-winning stage veteran Victor Malana Maog who beautifully captures the passion and power of the show.

Musical direction is by Jeff Award winner Ryan T. Nelson and choreography is by Jeff Award nominee, Alex Sanchez.

West Side Story at Marriott Theatre (Photo by Liz Lauren)

West Side Story at Marriott Theatre (Photo by Liz Lauren)Making her Marriott Theatre debut is Lauren Maria Medina who plays an exquisite “Maria.” She has the voice of an angel with pipes big enough to completely fill the stage.

Also making their debuts on the Marriott stage are Jake David Smith as “Tony” who wins our hearts and Vanessa Aurora Sierra as “Anita” who sings and dances her way into the stratosphere.

Mention must be made of Marisa Fee as “Anybodys” whose gender issues are much more realized in this production. Originally a “tomboy,” Fee appears with the rest of the girls in a ballet, wearing a gown, a strong departure from the original.

Jeffrey D. Kmiec’s set design makes great use of the in-the-round stage with realistic appearance of a fire escape and other urban settings to reflect the cold stark reality of the neighborhood.

Kudos to costume designer Amanda Vander Byl for her realistic 1950s costumes and of course, to musical supervisor Patti Garwood and her orchestra who play the haunting score to perfection.

Covid Protocols: Marriott Theatre guests are currently required to wear face coverings and present proof of COVID-19 vaccination, or an appropriate negative COVID-19 test to attend performances in the theatre. Details at MarriottTheatre.com

DETAILS: “West Side Story” is at the Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Dr., Lincolnshire through March 27. Run Time: 2.5 hours with a 15-minute intermission. For tickets and more information, call The Marriott Theatre Box Office at 847.634.0200 or visit Marriott Theatre.

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

Mira Temkin

Theater News


Chicago theaters are open. (Goodman Theatre photo)
Chicago theaters are open. (Goodman Theatre photo)



With audiences now used to observing mask mandates and bringing their vax cards, theaters are going ahead with their winter show schedules.


Chicago Theatre Week

 Get tickets during Chicago Theatre Week, Feb. 17-27, 2022 to musicals and dramas at reduced prices Find more information at Chicago Theatre Week/Choose Chicago. Also look for deals pre and post Theatre Week at Chicago Plays.

Show openings

There is a wide selection of winter shows, some of which you might miss in 2022, depending on your usual theater subscriptions and play going habits, So, here are a half-dozen to add to your list with some theaters in Chicago and some in the suburbs.

“Groundhog Day: The Musical” opens at Paramount Theatre at 23 E. Galena Blvd, Aurora on Jan. 26. Visit Paramount Theatre.  Based on the Bill Murray comedy, the book was written by Danny Rubin with music and lyrics by Tim Minchin.

“Agatha Christie’s Secret Council, a world premiere by David Rice featuring Christie’s sleuths, Tommy and Tuppence,” opens Jan. 29. at First Folio at the Mayslake Peabody Estate 31st St. & Rt. 83, Oakbrook.

“Gem of the Ocean” by August Wilson, opened Jan.22 at the Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St. Chicago.

“West Side Story” opens at Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire, Feb. 2.

“When There Are Nine,” a play featuring Ruth Bader Ginsburg, opens at Pride Arts’ Broadway Theater, 4139 N. Broadway, Chicago Feb. 10.

“Outside Mullingar,” by John Patrick Shanley opens at Citadel theatre 300 Waukegan Rd., Lake Forest, Feb. 11. Citadel Theatre

Jodie Jacobs




‘West Side Story’ still carries a message

Mikaela Bennett and Corey Cott in West Side Story at Lyric Opera. (Photo by Todd Rosenberg)
Mikaela Bennett and Corey Cott in West Side Story at Lyric Opera. (Photo by Todd Rosenberg)

3 1/2 stars

If you go to see “West Side Story,” now at the Lyric Opera through June 2, 2019, you are likely to think about how culture clashes have changed or not since Leonard Bernstein wrote the show’s dramatically descriptive music, Stephen Sondheim did the very memorable lyrics, Arthur Laurents penned the book based on William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” and Jerome Robbins directed and choreographed it.

When West Side Story opened as a Broadway musical in 1957 it received six Tony nominations including Best Musical but a feel good show, “Music Man,” won the Tony Award for Best Musical. “West Side Story” was not meant to make audiences happy. Even the show’s single funny scene/song “Gee, Officer Krupke” sung by the Jets pinpoints societal problems.

Anyone who reads Shakespeare’s tragedies, knows the Bard is very good at portraying motivations and clashes.

If you know your Shakespeare, you will find some similarities between the “Romeo and Juliet “ of the 1590’s and Broadway musical of the 1950s.

Continue reading “‘West Side Story’ still carries a message”

Exciting Lyric concert joins worldwide Bernstein celebration


Leonard Bernstein’s genius for capturing the soul of America in everything from orchestral works, opera and religious tributes to musicals, ballets, choral pieces and songs for events, is being celebrated at venues throughout the world in honor of his 100th birthday.

Lyric celebrates Leonard Bernstein's 100 birthday with a special concert. Photo by Jack Mitchell.
Lyric celebrates Leonard Bernstein’s 100 birthday with a special concert. Photo by Jack Mitchell.

Musical tributes began on what would have been his 99th birthday, Aug. 25, 2017 (he died in 1990) but formally kicked off with a program at Washington D.C.’s Kennedy Center, Sept. 22, 2017. The celebrations are continuing through his 100th year.

What the Lyric Opera of Chicago is doing promises to be exceptional.

Opera stars mezzo-soprano Susan Graham and baritone Nathan Gunn take on the roles of unhappy suburban couple, Dinah and Sam in Bernstein’s one-act opera ,”Trouble in Tahiti.”  The opera’s jazz interlude is done by Ryan Opera center ensemble members Diana Newman, Josh Lovell and Emmett O’Hanlon.

They and Broadway star Kate Baldwin plus other artists will sing numbers from shows Bernstein did such as “West Side Story,” “Candide,” “Peter Pan,” “Wonderful Town” and “White House Cantata” (Originally titled “1600 Pennsylvania Avenue” written with Alan Jay Lerner) and other songs.

There might be a song from “Songfest,” commissioned to celebrate America’s 1976 Bicentennial. Based on poems, it could be “To What You Said” (Walt Whitman). It is about love for another time and conflicted sexuality. Another program possibility is “So Pretty,” a 1968 anti-war song, Bernstein wrote with lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. Composed for a Broadway for Peace fundraiser at Lincoln Center, it was sung by Barbra Streisand.

“I think it will be revelatory,” said Lyric dramaturg Roger Pines during a recent interview.

“We have Nathan Gunn so we can do “Captain Hook’s Soliloquy,” It’s a tour de force. He as the right voice for it,” said Pines. “It was not sung in the original Broadway show (April, 24 1950) because Boris Karloff was Captain Hook (and also George Darling).

(Note: Bernstein wrote the music and lyrics as a complete score but only a few of the songs were included in the original staging, supposedly because of the leads’ limited musical range.)

The first half of Lyric’s program will be the opera which is sung in English. Pines notes that even though it was written and staged in the early 1950s, “Tahiti’s” marital communication problems are more universal then applicable to one time period.

“Couples now can relate to the problems in their own relationship,” Pines said. He also thought people would appreciate Graham’s aria in her analyst’s office and the one she sings after leaving a horrible movie. “It’s comic,” he said.

As to the second half, Pines said it was important to introduce the wide variety of Bernstein’s music and how it was reflecting events. “Bernstein was so multi-faceted we do not have time to explore every side. But I think it is a good way to see that his music is extremely varied, and its quality.”

DETAILS: Celebrating 100 years of Bernstein, March 10, 7:30 p.m. at the Lyric Opera, 20 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago. For tickets and other information call (312) 827-5600 and visit Lyric Opera.

Jodie Jacobs