“West Side Story” packs a punch


“West Side Story,” a musical that brings the story of Romeo and Juliet into modern-day New York, adds a touch of classic musical theater to the Beef & Boards season. On the harsh streets of the upper west side, two gangs battle for control of the turf, and things get complicated when a gang member falls in love with a rival gang member’s sister.

The show begins with top-notch choreography used to set up the tension between the two gangs, the Jets and the Sharks.

It becomes clear just how much the Jets resent the Sharks, as they feel the Puerto Rican Sharks have come to New York to invade their territory.

The Jets, led by Riff (Ben Cullen), decide to challenge the Sharks to a rumble to settle the score between the two gangs at the upcoming dance. Cullen makes an excellent Riff, capturing the desperation of the character to prove himself and keep his gang on top.

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Riff sets off to enlist the help of Tony (Glenn DeVar), a former Jet who has denounced gang life and works at Doc’s Drugstore. Tony initially refuses to join the Jets at the dance, but Riff convinces him to remain loyal to his former gang.

From the first few notes of Tony’s first song, DeVar’s vocals grip and don’t let go. He is able to strike a balance between the hard former gang member and the softer, more mature character who is convinced something good is about to happen for him.

DeVar comes to Beef & Boards with credits from around the world. In addition to performing in the Live Nation China Tour of Madagascar Live, he spent time performing in “Vegas! The Show” for Norwegian Cruise Line. Devar’s honest portrayal of Tony and his solid vocals make him the perfect candidate to lead this production.

We finally meet the future object of Tony’s affections, Maria (Courtney Cheatham), as we learn she has recently come to America from Puerto Rico.

Maria is young and beautiful and the sister of Bernardo, the leader of the Sharks. Tony and Maria lock eyes at the dance and instantly fall in love. Cheatham’s performance of the innocent and naive Maria is believable, and she effortlessly carries the vast amount of singing done by the character with her strong soprano vocals.

The connection between Tony and Maria is upsetting to both gangs, and Riff and Bernardo agree to meet for a war council at the drug store.

Meanwhile, the Shark Girls, Anita (Marisa Rivera), Rosalia (Sally Scharbrough), and Consuelo (Jackie Kosoff) discuss the differences between America and Puerto Rico. The three of them command the stage during their number, “America,” and continue to be standouts throughout the show.

Rivera could not be a more perfect Anita. She is the total package, capturing the sassy, take-no-prisoners attitude of the character. She also packs powerful vocals and pulls off the choreography of the number without a hitch. Rivera draws your eye every time she is on stage. Rivera returns to Beef & Boards after playing Velma in Chicago in 2012.

The show’s powerful message resonates through the audience thanks to the performances of the cast. Perhaps a little too timely, the message that hate can only end in tragedy left many in the audience in tears at the end of the show.

Other standout performances include Chris Trombetta as Baby John (a Jet), Grace Atherholt as Anybodys (a Jet girl who yearns to be part of the gang) and Lew Hackleman, who gave a heartwarming performance as Doc. Don’t miss your opportunity to see this classic. “West Side Story” runs through Oct. 1.