‘West Side Story’ this weekend only at TBT

Thunder Bay Theatre cast of "West Side Story in Concert"

“https://s3.amazonaws.com/ogden_images/www.thealpenanews.com/images/2017/07/12144837/tbt-cast-web-745×500.jpg” alt=”” width=”745″ height=”500″ class=”alignnone size-medium wp-image-580725″ />Thunder Bay Theatre hopes to build on the success of its first show of the summer season with its next offering, “West Side Story in Concert.” This one weekend only production opens Friday and closes Sunday.

“The Addams Family” kicked off the summer, and even though TBT condensed that show into three weeks instead of the usual four, attendance projections exceeded expectations.

“We were hoping to bring in 1,250 patrons for ‘Addams Family’ and ended up with 1,425,” said TBT Artistic Director Jeffrey Mindock. “The community has been extremely supportive of us. What we heard from a lot of ‘Addams Family’ patrons was that it was one of the best shows they have seen at TBT. We are excited about trying to top that with ‘West Side Story’ and ‘Oklahoma.'”

A musical with book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, “West Side Story” was inspired by Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” and opened on Broadway in 1957. Set in New York City’s Upper West Side, it explores the rivalry between the Jets and the Sharks, two teenage street gangs struggling to survive in a world of hate, violence and prejudice.

“When we chose to do ‘West Side Story’ we were not in the same political climate that we are in now,” Mindock said. “What’s so interesting about this play is that it handles racial tensions, the generational divide and gang violence – concepts and problems taking place 50 to 60 years ago – that still are prevalent in our modern society.”

TBT opted to transport the story from the 1950s up to modern day.

“Our Sharks are now of mixed race – Latino, African American,” Mindock said. “We have even cast some Caucasians into the Sharks to highlight the diversity in our world today as opposed to in the 1950s. In 1950, segregation was still a much bigger thing. What we have now is that the Jets don’t appreciate the culture of the Sharks and vice versa.”

Though he hopes the show will open some dialogue, he also said TBT’s production team worked hard not to politicize it.

“What I love about doing in-concert plays is that there is truly no agenda,” he said. “We worked tirelessly to present a play that has the perspective of both sides. I believe it supports civilized thorough discussion for everyone.”

TBT first tried out the “in-concert” concept last summer with “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” which was met with much success. Mindock said “West Side Story” is not patterned after the well-known PBS in-concert specials, but instead still features a full script with a full vocal score and all the choreography of the original show.

“The only thing they don’t have is a full set of moving sky scrapers and there will be just one set of costumes,” he said.

The show features a cast of 20, including 13 professional core company members and seven local high school students. Shows are slated for Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 7:30 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m.

In what is a first for TBT, “West Side Story” also will be presented outdoors at the Bay View Park Bandshell as part of True North Radio Network’s Summer Concert Series. This free event, slated for July 29 from 6-9 p.m., will allow people who don’t normally come into the theater to enjoy a live show in a relaxed setting.

Since it is taking place outside of the normal TBT environment, the special lighting and sound effects designed for the mainstage production won’t be possible to bring outdoors, though the show still will provide a great opportunity to experience theater.

“I am excited for people in the community to have access to this show like never before,” Mindock said. “This type of stuff happens all over the country with live theater taking place in public spaces such as parks. For it to happen now in Alpena is a pretty big deal.”