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December 10, 2016
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arts & leisure

Theatre Beat: Forestburgh Playhouse: There’s a place for us

Tony (Michael Schauble) and Maria (Emily Brown) share a tender moment. .

By the time the pair performed the duet, “One hand, One Heart,” the packed house was committed, and roared approval every time they sang. Other actors followed suit, providing terrific renditions of well known songs, including the fabulous Gabriella Perez (Anita), who solidly delivered a great performance throughout. Matching Perez note for note (and on the dance floor as well) was one of this season’s standout actors, Michael Graceffa, who also provided a multi-layered performance as Anita’s lover Bernardo. Macho and imposing, Graceffa’s interpretation provides the perfect blend of simmering sexuality, while his sometimes frightening violent streak bubbles to the surface. The show demands strong performers and the four leads all exceeded my personal expectations.

While gifted, these actors cannot make “West Side Story’ work on their merit alone, and the wildly enthusiast audience continued to cheer as the ensemble performed the often difficult choreography and musical prowess needed to deliver the “Dance at the Gym,” “The Rumble” and the intense reprise of “Tonight.” Well constructed characters were brought vividly to life, and both the boys and girls chorus were very, very good--adding even more electrifying pizzazz to the overall success of the show. While talented to a fault, a few of the guys stand out, including Josh Pins and spot-on Kyle Van Zandt (as Baby John and A-Rab, respectively) along with Zachary Bencal (as Action).

More talent, in the form of Lauren Chapman (Anybodys) and Katie Sarno (Rosalia) also truly impressed along with (consistently great) Kevin Confoy’s tough-as-nails Detective Shrank, Steve Davis’ Doc and Melissa Niknam’s (the Widow) gorgeous voice tugging at the hearts of the audience as the show builds to its dramatic, haunting climax. “West Side Story” is a familiar tale to many, including me --and yet I found myself so immersed in the story that I was once again carried away by the tragic tale. While there are laughs, it is the pathos inherent in the plot that lingers. Feeling slightly overwhelmed, I must admit that I cried as the last notes of the lush score echoed in the rafters, while the audience leapt to it’s collective feet, giving the entire cast a well deserved standing ovation.

“West Side Story’ runs through August 5 at the FBP. For reservations and information visit www.fbplayhouse.org or call 845/794-1194.