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Jets Take On the Sharks in Marin Summer Theater's 'West Side Story'

More than 50 years after show debuts on Broadway, Novato troupe gives it a modern twist.

Can you hear those fingers snapping to a beat? Yes, it’s the Jets and the Sharks getting ready for a rumble.

Marin Summer Theater and its multitalented young performers are going to tweak West Side Story for its run July 28-31 at s Emily Gates Student Center, just like Jerome Robbins did more than 50 years ago in his adaption of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

West Side Story will be the third and final production of the 2011 Marin Summer Theater season. The music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim are based on an original concept from Robbins and is considered one of theater’s greatest musicals. The show debuted on Broadway in 1959 and has had several successful revivals. 

Many are familiar with the plot: Romeo and Juliet transported to New York City. However the MST artistic staff has updated this classic to be more accessible to today’s audiences but also with some PG-13 adaptations.

“Our choreographers have created all new hip-hop inspired dances the audience will love,” Director Pat Nims said.  Kate Kenyon and Valerie Oga have done a fantastic job of seamlessly fitting the pops and hits of hip-hop into Bernstein’s music, and Shannon Ainsworth has updated the Latin dances beautifully.”

Fans of TV shows such as So You Think You Can Dance are sure to appreciate the mixing and clashing of hip hop versus salsa that help define the warring street gangs — the “American” Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks.

This new production also addresses ethnic differences such as language: “Importantly, portions of the dialog and lyrics are in Spanish,” Nims said. “In a story about the meeting of two different cultures, it was only right to let the Puerto Rican community speak with its own voice.”

MST has included other surprises in this production. “Even if you have seen West Side Story before, you have not seen it like this,” Nims hinted. “We have remained faithful to the script while finding ways to keep the story fresh and relevant to today’s reality. … This is not about the nicest kids in town.”

The young idealistic lovers Tony and Maria find themselves struggling to survive in a world of hate, violence and prejudice. The young characters live in a world of poverty and oppression.

“They survive any way they can,” Nims said. “The miracle of West Side Story is that love can conquer in such a place.”

While the songs are familiar to most theatergoers, they continue to astonish with their power and beauty: “Somewhere,” “Cool,” “Tonight,” “America,” “Maria,” “A Boy Like That,” “One Hand One Heart” and “Something's Coming” are a few of the memorable pieces.

The cast of 27 comes from 15 schools and universities and features Sam Mickel (Columbia University) as Tony, Sandra Colindres (Marin Catholic High School) as Maria, Bouket Fingerhut (Academy of Art University) as Anita, Taylor Brindley (Marin School of the Arts) as Riff and Jacob Vorperian (Sir Francis Drake High School) as Bernardo.  Also participating are 15 college and high school musicians under the musical direction of Emily Gates and a crew of 12 under the technical direction of Billy Higgins.

Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for students and seniors. They can be purchased at MarinSummerTheater.org and at the San Marin High School front office, which is open during normal business hours this summer. A limited seating pay-what-you-will preview performance will be given at 8 p.m. July 28.  Performance are 8 p.m. July 28-30 and at 2 p.m. July 31.

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