Front Row Reviewers

West Side Story at West Valley Performing Arts Center Brings a Bittersweet, Brilliant, Beautiful Tragedy

Front Row Reviewers

Front Row Reviewers

west side story

Review by Anna Roelofs, Front Row Reviewers

With less than two weeks until the final curtain, I had the privilege of seeing West Side Story at West Valley Arts, a company that has repurposed the former Hale Center Theatre location for new theatrical endeavors.

For the uninitiated, West Side Story is a Steven Sondheim/Leonard Bernstein musical retelling of Shakespeare’s classic Romeo and Juliet set in west Manhattan in the 1950’s. The Montagues are reframed as the Jets, a young, white gang that is at a constant standoff against the Sharks, a Puerto Rican gang parallel to the Capulets. Just as the original tale tells, tensions and emotions rise amidst the rival groups when Jet leader, Tony, experiences love-at-first-sight with the Shark leader’s sister, Maria (Samantha Paredes). 

The vocals in this show are the astounding West Side Story norm. There was not one actor in the entire cast who did not serve the sweeping score exactly what it was written for.

Leading lady Paredes brings a take on the role of Maria that is much needed and long overdue in the world of musical theatre. A usually typical ingenue role, Paredes adds dimension and sass to Maria that is closer to Anita (understudy Rebecca Burroughs). Her interpretation has more energy, sass, and teen-like ambition. Her air of naïveté is still delivered to an appropriate level, but this new level of boldness makes for a Maria that is more enticing to grow attached to and more tragic to empathize with.

Further excellent casting choices can be seen through Maxx Teuscher as Tony and Ren Cottam as Riff. Cottam’s ability to play it level-headed makes his darker, more aggressive moments all the more striking and beneficial to the story. Teuscher’s Tony has a constant hesitation of association with the idea of being a Jet and truly sells the idea of a gang leader turned pretty-boy in love. Both Teuscher and Cottam give us crystal clear tenor voices that only ever elevate their characters. 

A perfect moment that encapsulates the strong acting in this show is during the rumble. After Bernardo stabs Riff, ending his life, actor Scotty Fletcher expresses horror and shock, rather than the further pursuit of violence. The characters in West Side Story are gang members, yes, but they are human teenagers, and this subtle choice to alter how Bernardo feels about his actions makes all the difference in selling the genuineness of the story. 

Any actor in the professional or semi-professional world knows that understudies and swings are the scaffolding of any cast. During this performance, we were treated with Anita understudy Burroughs and male swing Noah Bradford filling in for the role of Action. With days notice, both cast members stepped in to keep the show rolling and certainly play their roles due diligence. Burroughs has lovely vocals that showcase the typical powerful belt one would expect from Anita, while also treating us to a lovely, resonant mix voice that we don’t normally get to hear from the role. Music Director, Karin Gittins has created beautiful vocals and Sound Designer Bryce Robinettekeeps the momentum with his talents to add such verve and sadness to this show.  

The ensemble of this show is phenomenal. You could pick any one member to watch and they would deliver a clean, stunning performance on par with any of the leads, and more importantly, on par with one another. Choreographer Ben Roeling does a phenomenal job blending conventional West Side Story moves with new sequences, while also making full use of the theatre-in-the-round space. 

The members of the Jets have personality variety amongst them, a detail that makes their cohesion far more believable. Each member isn’t all hard-hearted, tough boys. There is a greater sense of individualism, making the Jets feel far more like a group of teenage boys with a common cause. 

Not only are the dance aspects of the choreography spectacular, but the standard, non-musical blocking as well. Much like the dancing in the ensemble, the movement in this show is very natural and believable, while also demonstrating the edgy flair you would expect of this show. 

One aspect of this show that I found spectacular, yet often unfortunately unacknowledged in general show comments is the lighting. The nature of West Side Story has this dichotomy of the gruesome reality of these teenagers’ gang violence, versus the dancey, dream sequences amidst the fantasies of the characters. Disco-like stars during the legendary duet, “Tonight” and harrowing spotlights on the corpses of characters Riff (this show’s Mercutio figure) and Bernardo (leader of the Sharks, this show’s Tybalt figure) perfectly accentuate the fantasy versus reality aspects of the show. 

Director Izzy Arieta is to be commended for the pacing and thrilling aspects of this show. Often, transitions are another component of shows that often go without being spoken of, and are often unnoticed due to their nature, usually being quiet blackouts shrouded in applause. Never in my life have I been so enticed by set and scene transitions in a show until now. Between scenes and songs of this production are miniature choreographed transitions. Some make use of the set pieces (such as the corner fence pieces) (Set Design and Technical Director, Adam Flitton), while some were short dance sequences. The choice to add dimension and depth to this normally cast aside aspect of theatre is a brilliant way to keep the cohesion of the story for the full duration of the show.

When going into any rendition of West Side Story, there are certain expectations for the romantic chemistry between the roles of Tony and Maria, as well as Bernardo and Antia. The actors in these four roles all splendidly compliment one another in creating the relationships, but truly, the camaraderie and platonic chemistry of the characters within the two gangs was just as strong and notable. Throughout the run time, I bought the friendships and hierarchies of both the Sharks and the Jets. 

Truly, the production team of West Valley Performing Arts Center’s West Side Story, including Costume Designer  Alicia Kondrick and Wigs & Makeup Designer  Bip Lynch should be duly applauded for their ability to simultaneously blend classic elements of the show with new visions to create a stellar production that is not to be missed.

As a reviewer, I have the great privilege to see West Valley Performing Arts Center’s West Side Story with the opportunity to not only view it, but review it. This is a production that I would happily to see many times over.

West Valley Performing Arts Center presents West Side Story, book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim.
Thurday-Saturday 7:30 PM, Sat matinee 3:00 PM until August 26, 2023
 West Valley Performing Arts Center, 3333 S, Decker Lake Dr, West Valley City, UT 84119
Tickets: $18.00-$25.00
Contact:, 8010-965-5140
West Valley Performing Arts Center Facebook Page

This production is appropriate for ages 13+

Front Row Reviewers

Front Row Reviewers


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