“Dadoo, DOO, didido.” Perhaps one of the best known opening lines of any musical, it’s a reminder of one of the greatest love stories ever told.
Shakespeare brought the tale of tragic romance to the stage with “Romeo and Juliet,” but centuries later, Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim put it to song in “West Side Story,” one of the greatest musicals ever performed. Set in New York City, this updated version of Shakespeare’s classic follows the plight of Maria and Tony, two star-crossed lovers divided by both geography and prejudice.
This weekend, at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre, the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre will cross geographic boundaries in its own way to perform “West Side Story.”
From the woman playing Maria, who had to drive in from Grosse Pointe several times a week for the last three-and-a-half months, to the four cast members from Livonia, to cast and crew hailing from places such as Hamburg, Pinckney and Farmington Hills, this performance has brought together talented actors from all over metropolitan Detroit. In the words of director Wendy Sielaff, “This show has drawn a lot of talent.”
Wendy Sielaff, who has been directing for 20 years, explained how performing a classic such as “West Side Story” is difficult because of its scope. “The show is challenging artistically and vocally and because there are so many scene changes and complex choreography,” Sielaff said. “I wanted to keep it true to its original form, with the dancing wonderful and the singing pure.”
“There are no updates, no change in content,” Sielaff said in regards to costumes and scenery. She then added that as a director her vision for this show was to keep it as true to form as possible. “I want to keep both the passion and violence real,” she said. “The audience comes in with certain expectations and I don’t want to disappoint.”
At the same time, however, Sielaff emphasized that “this is a real gritty show. We are dealing with the murder of three people, and there is a rape scene.” Sielaff explained that in the scene where Anita goes to find Tony, she is not just teased, as is how many directors stage it, but the character is actually raped. “Many people gloss over that,” Sielaff said.
To create an atmosphere where the hate and danger seem real, Sielaff brought in the Ann Arbor group Ring of Steel to choreograph all of the fight scenes.
“Every single move I choreographed,” Sielaff said. “Everyone knows exactly where to be, so no one walks into a punch, and no one gets hurt.” Months have been spent perfecting the detailed scenes. Sielaff added, “The fight scenes are the ones that the boys really enjoyed.”
Dance scenes have also been repeated time and time again. “People expect the Jets to jump, leap, snap – we have all that,” Sielaff said.
“West Side Story” is a play known for its large dance numbers and beautifully passionate music, and the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre production with it’s elaborate dance scenes and choreography intends to please.
The Ann Arbor Civic Theatre
A true civic organization, the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre (A2CT) is a troupe dedicated to community. Founded in 1929, A2CT has been providing an outlet for actors for over 75 years.
Every show performed by A2CT is cast through open audition, which means that anyone has the chance to audition for a part on stage. All actors, crews and directors are volunteers, so every show contains the vibrant enthusiasm of people coming together to participate in an activity they all love.
This season, A2CT will be presenting “West Side Story,” “All My Sons,” “Guys and Dolls,” “A Thousand Clowns,” “The Nerd” and “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.” All plays will be performed at Washtenaw Community College’s contemporary Towsley Auditorium, children’s shows at WCC’s College Theatre, and all musicals find a home at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre.
With “third-off Thursdays,” where all general admission ticket prices are reduced by a third and group discounts for as few as eight people, A2CT is an organization focused on bringing theatre to everyone in Ann Arbor. A theatre for the people, It’s mission statement says it all: “We exist to provide opportunities for the members of the community to participate in theatre.”
The Ann Arbor Civic Theatre box office is located at 322 W. Ann St. and is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekdays. The box office can be reached at 734-971-A2CT (2228), or further information can be obtained from the website, www.a2ct.org. Tickets can be purchased in advance or 45 minutes before each show.