Ron Russell, RMT
Melissa Cecala and Benjamin Plowman in "West Side Story."
WEST SIDE STORY, Rodgers Memorial Theatre, through July 1 (298-1302). Running time: 135 minutes (one intermission).

CENTERVILLE — With warfare in the Middle East constantly in the news and tempers flaring closer to home over immigration and racial issues, the landmark musical "West Side Story," about hatred and tension in the streets of New York City in the 1950s, is as topical as ever.

Director Alane Schofield is blessed with a youthful cast, many of them newcomers to the Rodgers Memorial Theatre stage, and they infuse the classic spin on "Romeo and Juliet" with raw energy, as the American-born Jets rumble with the Puerto Rican Sharks in a deadly gang battle that underscores the futility of war.

Benjamin Christian Plowman and Melissa Cecala are perfectly cast as the star-crossed young lovers — Tony, who is trying to shed his old, hot-headed gang ways, and Maria, anxious to test her wings in her newly adopted homeland. They perform and sing with such emotion that the characters are entirely believable.

Their circle of feuding friends include hot-tempered Bernardo (Nathan Mikami), the sensuous Anita (Taylor Allred), combustible Riff (Cameron Kapetanov) and feisty Anybodys (Jenessa Bowen).

The perplexed, befuddled and angry adults include Officer Krupke (Dick Dilley), Lt. Schrank (Nick Cash) and drugstore proprietor Doc (Greg Peters), with Ken McEntire lending comic relief as Gladhand, the high school leader attempting to keep the dance in the gym under control.

Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim's score is timeless and powerful, from the lyrical and poetic "Something's Coming" and "Somewhere" to the rhythmic "America" to the show-stopping "Gee, Officer Krupke."

Maurie Tarbox's musical direction, Susan S. Holland's choreography (a mix of wildly energetic and ballet), Jennifer Johnson's costumes and Josephine Bradbury's terrific scenery are all major pluses.

There was one slight distraction on opening weekend during the scene change when Maria's balcony was being moved somewhat noisily into place.

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