• Pamela Froman

West Side Story

The tragic story of Romeo and Juliet is transported to New York City in the 1950s when two young, idealistic lovers find themselves caught between warring street gangs. West Side Story talks about hate, violence and prejudice through music and dance. It is a memorable – yet sad – love story, created by Arthur Laurents, Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim.

The production of West Side Story at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center tells this timeless tale through beautiful song and some stunning choreography. The musical follows the rival gangs of the Sharks – who are Puerto Ricans – and the Jets – who are white – who fight for turf in the New York City streets. Racial tensions run high and two lovers from each side, Tony and Maria, find each other despite the violence.

The music truly makes this performance stand out. Iconic songs such as “Maria”, and I Feel Pretty” keep the musical moving and immerses the audience into the story. Dancing, created by choreographer Becky Castells, is infused in the show and brings the fight scenes to life.

There is also humor interspersed in the musical. The standouts are “America” where the Puerto Rican gals shake their stuff, and “Gee, Officer Krupke” where the Jets make fun of their hoodlum status.

The story starts as Riff, played by Nick Meyer, wants to stir up trouble against the Sharks. His fellow gang members are all for it, except for Tony, played by Jeff DeWitt, who wants to leave all that drama behind. However, Riff convinces Tony to join the Jets at the high school dance, where the gang wants to start a rumble.

Maria, played by Tina Hartellis, is a Puerto Rican girl who has just come to America. She goes to her first dance and it is there that she and Tony meet and fall in love. The twosome are quickly pulled apart by Maria's brother Bernardo, the leader of the Sharks. The two lovers conspire to find a way to be together, but all that changes when the fighting escalates – Riff is killed by Bernardo and retaliating in blind rage, Tony murders Bernardo. Maria forgives Tony, but the two are separated.

Bernardo's friend Chino, played by Khemuni Norodom, plans to retaliate by killing Tony. Maria asks her friend – and Bernardo's girlfriend – Anita, played by Sandra Diana Cantu, to pass on a message to Tony. When Anita is attacked by the remaining members of the Jets, she warps the message telling Tony that Maria is dead. Grief-stricken, Tony tells Chino to go ahead and kill him, but when he finds that Maria is very much alive, he is overjoyed to be with her. But the romance ends when Chino shoots Tony and he dies in Maria's arms.

The best actor in this performance is hands-down Tina Hartellis, who is an incredible singer. She really brings her role to life and her vocals are stunning. Jeff DeWitt, as Tony, brings romance to the stage with his performance. There is also a beautiful dance sequence within the show with Dream Tony, played by Michael Dumas and Dream Maria, played by Ashley Maimes. The dancing is gorgeous and moving. And the whole cast works together to create an amazing effect!

West Side Story runs through April 8 at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center, 3050 Los Angeles Ave., in Simi Valley. Tickets for West Side Story are $25 Adults, $22 Students and Seniors 60 and above, and $18 Children. For more information call (805) 583-7900 or log onto

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