Windsor Star

West Side Story in city’s east end

- BEATRICE FANTONI bfantoni@windsorsta­ or follow me on Twitter @bfantoni

West Side Story is about to open in Windsor’s east end.

Arts Collective Theatre, a local nonprofit that pairs local high school, college and university students with theatre profession­als to work on fullscale production­s, will open its inaugural musical production of West Side Story on Friday, Oct. 10 at the Olde Walkervill­e Theatre.

“West Side Story is a challenge and I accept the challenge,” said Christophe­r Rabideau, the artistic director of ACT, which came into being in May this year.

Rabideau has directed shows all over Windsor and has also worked on social justice initiative­s with youth, newcomers and the LGBT community. One of the musicals that students were always asking him about was West Side Story, he said, but because it’s such a difficult production — it calls not just for serious singing and acting chops, but for top-notch choreograp­hy, too — nobody in the city really wanted to do it.

The musical, written by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim in the 1950s and also turned into an Os- car-winning film adaptation in 1961, is a modern retelling of Shakespear­e’s Romeo and Juliet. The rivalry is between Puerto Ricans and Caucasians in 1950s New York, the star- crossed lovers are Maria and Tony. (Even if you’re not into musicals, chances are you’ve heard the snappy group number America or the Spanish-styled tune I Feel Pretty.)

But rather than do the same as the original, Rabideau said, the ACT version opted for non-traditiona­l casting and, through the choice of lighting, decor and a scaffoldin­g-only set, subtly raises the issue of the “illusion” of the American dream.

It’s an ambitious undertakin­g, but it’s the perfect opportunit­y for this community group, Rabideau said. The students and mentors have been working through the summer, with local theatre profession­als mentoring the cast and crew in all aspects of the production, from the lighting booth to the choreograp­hy to costumes, makeup and even the show posters.

And, all of the leads — including the students playing Maria and Tony — are first-timers. “They’re all strong and amazing,” Rabideau said.

ACT’s production of West Side Story will also be the first full show hosted in the Olde Walkervill­e Theatre, so it’s a good opportunit­y to see the historic space come back to life.

The plan is to put on a musical production every autumn and also develop other social justice-oriented theatre works throughout the year. An upcoming project with local students will have them writing and producing a theatre piece to raise awareness about mental health, Rabideau said.

West Side Story opens Friday, Oct. 10, with additional performanc­es Oct. 11, 17, 18 and 19 at the Olde Walkervill­e Theatre, 1564 Wyandotte St. E. For ticket informatio­n, visit, oldewalker­villetheat­ or call 519253-2929. Tickets are $18 opening night and $22 for the remainder of the run.

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