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READY TO RUMBLE AT RIVERSIDE

The story of Romeo and Juliet is now more than 400 years old.

The tragedy has graced essentially every prominent theater. It’s been morphed into ballets. Heck, it was even the inspiration behind an LFO song in the boy band heydays.

Today, the tale thrives in the form of “West Side Story.” The American musical classic proves that a spin on Billy Shakespeare doesn’t have to entail boredom, and that modern music and jazzy choreography can bring new life to a classic narrative.

“West Side Story” will run at Riverside Dinner Theater Wednesdays through Sundays through Aug. 3.

“Over the years on our theater’s comment cards, ‘West Side Story’ has always been in our top three requests,” said Patrick A’Hearn, producing artistic director of Riverside Center.

“We were able to twist a few arms and now, I believe, we are the only theater in the mid-Atlantic region doing this show. We were ready to do a classic and here it is.”

“West Side Story” tracks two rival gangs, the Puerto Rican Sharks and Americanized Jets, in their turf war in New York City’s West Side. Amid the intense, violent and prejudice-ridden rivalry, a girl (Maria) who’s arranged to marry a Shark falls in love with a Jets loyalist (Tony), and the ultimate love conundrum ensues. Through vicious gang wars, familial battles and seemingly endless drama, the two stay close until the very end.

“West Side Story” first hit Broadway in 1957 and essentially became an instant classic.

Riverside’s rendition adheres closely to the original plot line with doses of modern flair.

“On one hand, because it is so iconic, I wanted to resist trying to try bring something overly unique to it, so people didn’t recognize the show,” said director Jay Brock. “The differences are on the subtle side … when you see the show, it certainly doesn’t feel dated. Our actors handle the language and have been able to drive modernism, so it’s like you’re seeing a part of some sort of subculture.”

Brock, whose directing résumé extends well beyond 10 years in the D.C. area and across the country, is making his début at Riverside. His cast features a total of 25 actors, with the lead roles of Maria and Tony played by Quinn Vogt–Welch and Matthew Hirsh.

Vogt–Welch notably played Christine in Riverside’s production of “Phantom” nearly two years ago, and Hirsh, a native of Pennsylvania, was in the theater’s recent rendition of “Forever Plaid.”

“Working on the role of Tony has really opened up the way I look at most things in life,” said Hirsh about his role as the tragic hero. “He’s a dreamer. Until now, I’ve been very mechanical and to-the-point in my thought process … and now I feel like I can dream a bit more.”

The story of Tony, Maria and so many more is brought to life through what A’Hearn says is “absolutely incredible” choreography. Shawna Walker, who is leading choreography for the first time at Riverside, had a vision that incorporates all of the charming elements of her personal influences— Bob Fosse, Jack Cole and Gene Kelly.

“There are so many different vibes throughout the musical,” said Walker. “In the prologue, it really sets up the story … there is conflict and conflict within the movement. Later there is relief, very joyful moments and transitions into a very tender feeling. There are so many stories to tell and the movements support them.”

If you’ve been looking to take a trip to New York City in the near future, you may as well save some bus money. The set of “West Side Story,” designed by J.D. Madsen, is about as real and elaborate as it gets.

“The set is one of our most elaborate we’ve had,” said A’Hearn. “When the lighting gets set, you feel like you’re really in New York, with the building, the fire escapes, a water tower and tunnels. We have 24 windows that are all backlit. We have subway tracks that run across the stage.”

“The set is something to behold,” added Brock. “You don’t see things at this level even in D.C.”

And with this show, it appears Riverside is continuing to reach new heights. There is no need to venture afar to take in a quality “Story,” when one incredible one is being told right here in town.

Jesse Scott is a freelance writer and Fredericksburg native. Email him at jesserobertscott@gmail.com.

WANT TO GO?

What: “West Side Story”

Where: Riverside Dinner Theater, 95 Riverside Parkway, Fredericksburg

When: Through Aug. 3. Performances begins at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays with matinées at 1:30 p.m. on Wednesdays and 3 p.m. on Sundays. Arrive two hours prior for dinner.

Cost: $40–$60

Info: 540/370-4300; riversidedt.com

Permalink: http://news.fredericksburg.com/entertainment/2014/06/18/ready-to-rumble-at-riverside/