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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 Jonathan Fox
July 27, 2012

“West Side Story,” now playing at the Forestburgh Playhouse, (FBP) is arguably one of the most popular Broadway musicals of all time. The original production, written in 1957, was an instant smash and spawned a 1961 film version that has since captured the hearts of millions worldwide.

Inspired by William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” the story focuses on young lovers Tony (Michael Schauble) and Maria (Emily Brown) and their ill-fated romance, set against a back drop of warring street gangs, racial strife and the turbulent transition of the late 1950s giving way to a new generation.

The book, by the incomparable Arthur Laurents is enhanced with a brilliant score by Leonard Bernstein paired with inspired lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and the FBP offering rightfully pays homage to the original production, directed and choreographed by the legendary Jerome Robbins. Packed with action, the play takes place in the mean streets of New York and the score contains some of the most memorable tunes ever written, including “Tonight,” “Maria,” “Officer Krupke,” and “America.”

Artistic supervisor Ron Nash, teamed with resident director Kevin Confoy, have made all of the right choices with this production and the cast hit the stage on opening night- singing and dancing their hearts out, giving new life to Robbins’ original concept, while lending originality to their performances at the same time. Choreographer Maggie Anderson was careful to honor the original production, thereby allowing a smaller chorus to shine at the playhouse, in this larger-than-life theatrical presentation.

Although Ryan Touhey’s musical direction stumbled once or twice during the first act, even that could not deter the amazingly talented cast from delivering. As Tony and Maria declare their forbidden love, they face and fight their families and prejudices, while capturing the audience in a magic spell that only live theatre can create. Schauble and Brown have beautiful, strong voices and considerable acting chops that belie their youth. Delicately subtle when required, the pair's ability to convey their mutual adoration propels the passionate story line, and the audience was swept away as the powerful plot unfolded.