West Side Story in city’s east end
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 actwindsor.com, oldewalkervilletheatre.com or call 519253-2929. Tickets are $18 opening night and $22 for the remainder of the run.