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(Posted 8:30 a.m., March 2)

St. Peter Players bring 'West Side Story' to life
By Fred Sherwin
Orléans Online

The St. Peter Players' production os 'West Side Story' stars Allison O'Brien and Drew Plummer in the lead roles of Maria and Tony. Fred Sherwin/Photo

"West Side Story" is one of them most iconic Broadway productions of all time, and it features some of the most iconic songs of all time including "Maria", "America", "Somewhere" and "Tonight".

Following up on last year's Canadian high school premiere of "Phantom of the Opera", the St. Peter Players decided to bring the quintessential late 50s, early 60s play to the 21st century stage.

The result, judging by the opening night performance, is a huge success thanks mainly to a talented cast led by Allison O'Brien who plays Maria. The Grade 12 student has the biggest voice to hit the St. Peter stage since Samantha Mouchet played Fentine in the 2004 production of "Les Miz".

Drew Plummer plays opposite O'Brien as Tony. While Plummer's voice is not as strong,or as classically refined as O'Brien's, it serves as the perfect compliment, proving once again that St. Peter Players director Bernie Leger knows a thing or two about casting.

Jeremy Morganty and Brooke Morrice do a fine job as well as Bernardo and Anita, and Nicole Brake's solo performance of "Somewhere" is one of the highlights of the program.

But it is O'Brien's star that shines the brightest, particularly during her performance of "Tonight" with Plummer and "One Heart, One Hand". Her duet with Morrice in Act 2 is also a high point.

Aside from the singing, the biggest challenge in trying to pull-off a high school production of "West Side Story" is the choreography, which is why many amateur theatre groups shy away from the ambitious play. Not so the St. Peter Players, they tackle the choreography with the same gusto that the Jets take on the Sharks in a street fight.

For anyone born after 1980 who has never seen "West Side Story", it is essentially a 20th century version of "Romeo and Juliet" set in 1959. Tony and Maria are the main characters. He's Polish and she's Puerto Rican, two ethnic communities trying to find their place in the boiling melting pot of New York City.

Maria's brother Bernardo is the leader of the Sharks, while Tony's best friend Riff is the leader of the Jets.

The rival gangs agree to rumble to decide which of them will be the dominant gang in the neighbourhood.

Prior to the fight, they square off at a school dance where Tony and Maria meet for the first time, In an example of love at first sight they try to share a first kiss, but Bernardo tears them apart and sends Maria home.

Later that night, Tony meets Maria on her parents balcony and they profess their love for each other during the duet "Tonight". In the following scene, the Puerto Rican girls discuss the differences between living in the U.S. and their native Puerto Rico during the song "America".

The next day Tony meets Maria at the bridal shop where she works with Bernardo`s girlfriend Anita. They sing about getting married and Maria makes Tony promise to stop the fight.

When the two groups meet under the highway they first agree to fists only fight between Bernardo and Diesel, who`s a member of the Jets. The altercation quickly deteriorates, however, and before long Bernardo is locked in a knife fight with Riff.

When Riff gains the upper hand as is about to stab Bernardo, Tony quickly steps in and holds him back. Bernardo then seizes the moment and stabs Riff, killing him. In a fit of rage Tony picks up Riff`s knife and kills Bernardo. The first act ends with the two gangs scattering off stage leaving Tony alone to ponder what has just happened while approaching sirens can be heard off in the distance.

The first act isn't nearly as good as the second act which is tension filled from beginning to end, Maria forgives Tony for killing her brother and the two decide to run away together, unless the police or members of the Sharks catch him first.

The acting in the St. Peter Players production of West Side Story is superb, the singing is excellent and the choreography is top notch. But what transpires on the stage is only half the show. The production is blessed with an unbelievable student orchestra led by Lisa Concessi-MacLean.

The percussion section made up of Lisa Bebyck, Mike Heney and Jason Sinkus deserve special mention for delivering a dizzying array of special effects.

"West Side Story" continues until March 3. Curtain time is 7 p.m. and admission is $10 per person. St. Peter High School is located at 750 Charlemagne Blvd. in Fallingbrook.

'West Side Story' features some of the most iconic songs on Broadway including 'Amercia', 'Somehwere' and 'Maria'. Fred Sherwin/Photo

The cast if the St. Peter Players production of 'West Side Story' perform the nightmare scene in Act 2 of the play. Fred Sherwin/Photo

(This story was made possible thanks to their generous support of our local business partners.)



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