Originally created 09/23/04

Players bring grueling 'West Side' to Imperial



Augusta Players Artistic Director Richard Justice understands why the company has been hesitant to stage West Side Story.

The musical, which retells Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet against a gang-riddled New York City backdrop, features a large cast, a symphonic score and physically demanding dance numbers. It requires actors who can sing, singers who can dance and dancers that can do all three.

That is why Mr. Justice felt it was appropriate to open the Players' 60th anniversary season with the difficult show.

"It's the full package," Mr. Justice said. "It's the classic music that (Leonard) Bernstein wrote. It's the classic story - Romeo and Juliet - and it's Jerome Robbins' classic concept of telling this dramatic story through movement. It appeals to all the senses. It's a perfect storm."

At the eye of that storm is the story of Tony and Maria, two young lovers with ties to rival street gangs. While Romeo and Juliet were the unmistakable centerpiece of the Shakespearian source material, Emily Hobbs, who plays Maria in the Players production, sees her role differently.

"I really consider this an ensemble piece," she said. "It isn't just about these two main characters. There are so many other people involved that it becomes something more than just Tony and Maria."

After watching the movie and productions mounted by the Augusta Opera and a California company, Mr. Justice discovered that the music, dance and story really drive every production.

"There might be some slight variances, but this show really does dictate what you do," he said.

"There are no hidden elements. You just have to know, going in, that doing this means doing a lot."

Although the show has become familiar to both film and theater audiences, Ms. Hobbs said she is most excited by the prospect of introducing it to an audience unfamiliar with the musical.

"I teach middle school and my kids had no idea what this show was or what it was about," she said.

"So I'm excited about them coming to see it and taking away these ideas and issues of the differences between people."

Keith Manasco, who plays Tony, said the essence of the piece is delivering a palpable sense of exuberance on stage.

"This is a show that should make people gasp," he said. "It's about putting as much emotion and energy on stage as possible. Energy and rhythm - that's what this show is about."

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or steven.uhles@augustachronicle.com.

If you go

WHAT: West Side Story, presented by the Augusta Players

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 3 p.m. Sunday

WHERE: The Imperial Theatre, 745 Broad St.

COST: $12-$40. Call 826-4707.