By MIKE CHAIKEN
Yes, there are adults who populate the plot landscape of the classic stage musical, “West Side Story.”
But in the 1957 show with a book by Arthur Laurents, score by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and choreography by Jerome Robbins, adults are toothless, clueless, and ineffectual.
The youths—in general, the Jets and the Sharks, and in particular, the young lovers, Tony and Maria—rule supreme in this retelling of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”
Youth also rules supreme in the GetUp Stage Company production of the classic musical. A cast of teens (GUSCO is open to ambitious actors from ages 14 to 22) performs the roles of teens (and the adults deal with them) in this production, which opens at Trinity-on-Main in New Britain on Aug. 15. For the GUSCO show, Zach Carter is Tony, and Stephanie Evans is Maria.
However, although the show is about teens, does the show – created 57 years ago—hold relevance to teens today? And do teens from 2014 Connecticut suburbia relate to teens from 1957 New York City?
“I think that the overall attitude of teens hasn’t changed much,” said Rhiannon Carta, 17, of Bristol, who plays a girlfriend to a member of the Jets, one of the two gangs at the center of the story..
“Even though the time periods are totally different,” said Katerina Belales, 15, of Southington, “teens still act the same way… We basically have the same behaviors… The problems are the same.
“You still see kids getting into fights…,” said Katerina, who is one of the girls who associate with The Sharks in this production. “People don’t get along. It’s very relatable to kids nowadays.”
“There’s still racial issues going on,” said Rhiannon, noting the central conflict between newly arrived Puerto Ricans and the Caucasians who had already set down stakes in the West Side.
“We’re (teens) still very filled with angst,” said Rhiannon. “But I think these kids living in New York City, they have many more ways to express it because they’re mostly on their own. Whereas in Connecticut, we’re much more sheltered than these kids. But we still have the same animosity, and angst. Not just toward racial issues but life in general. I think the show really captures it.”
In terms of the GUSCO production, Rhiannon said, “I think (it) has made it really relevant with today’s audience while still keeping the classic gist of the show.”
As a piece of entertainment, what do the teens in GUSCO like about “West Side Story?”
“The thing with ‘West Side Story’ is it’s one of those great classic Broadway shows,” said Rhiannon. “It’s a triple threat show. You must be a strong actor, a strong singer, and a strong dancer. If you don’t have those three components what’s the point. But the show really captures that (use of acting, singing, and dancing).”
“‘West Side Story’ is a very acting (driven) show,” said Katerina. In addition, there is “amazing” music and “amazing” dancing. The need for strong all-around performers, said Katerina, “is what I love about it.”
One of the aspects that helps the show succeed is GUSCO’s founder, Lindsey DiPietro, said Katerina. “She’s an amazing director.”
“I think this cast is really talented,” said Rhiannon. “We have kids from all over Connecticut— from Ridgefield to right here in New Britain (where rehearsals were being held)… As I said, it’s a triple threat show. We… have those triple threats (skills).”
Audiences will like the show, said Katerina, because “This whole cast is so talented. Lindsey has reached out to so many different kids from throughout the state… She really wants us to be good. We have the best of the best here… You’ll see a lot of wonderful acting and singing
The GetUp Stage Co. production of “West Side Story” runs from Thursday through Saturday, Aug. 14 to 16, at 8 p.m. at Trinity-On-Main, 69 Main St., New Britain. Tickets are $15 at the door.