TEMPLETON — The curtain draws open to Leonard Bernstein’s enticing opening prologue as the Jets slide, scamper and pounce onto the stage. With no more than a couple of scaffolds and city-scape backdrop one is completely transported to lower Manhattan in the late summer days of 1957. For the next two and half hours two rival gangs, the Jets and the Sharks, expose issues of race, violence and forbidden love that seem even more relevant today than a decade ago.
Ambitious, fast-paced and thrilling dance numbers one after the other segue ever so naturally into dialogue riddled with 1950s “NY street kid” colloquialisms that every actor handles it as if it was their first language. The production value rivals any professional theater thanks to the deftly executed lighting design by recent Paso Robles graduate Ryan Flores, the adeptly directed cast by award winning director Catherine Kingsbury and choreography by regional Emmy Award winner Suzy Miller. When one considers that this is a purely amateur cast it is mind boggling what these two have managed to draw out of these performers.
Maria (junior Ashley Sinclair) and Tony (senior Ethan Locaro) have a palpable chemistry that rings true of the struggle for the ideal and pure. Riff (junior Dillon Stoffel) and Bernardo (senior Joseph Sayedon) believably lead their gangs with confidence and righteous indignation. Senior Sophia Talarico as Anita not only has a beautiful voice but as an actor manages to find the perfect balance of a tough, cynical “older sister” and a confidante who is sympathetic to the needs and dreams of young love. And it seems talent runs in the family as younger brother, Nick Talarico owns the part of Action with a rip-roaring performance of “Officer Krupke.”
The ensemble as a whole is outstanding. There are no small parts in this production. Every actor/dancer seems to savor even the tiniest expression and movement without anyone “pulling focus” or appearing as if they are trying to “chew the scenery” which is painfully typical in amateur productions. In a dream sequence that transcends the alter reality that has already been created, Temperance Wilcox and Zach Sidders sing a duet of “Somewhere” and the ensemble cast wordlessly creates their own individual story lines purely through their dance and facial expressions alone. Considering the top-notch performances, direction, choreography and technical execution in a performance space that is nothing less than state of the art, the price of entry is more than a bargain, it’s a gift.