West Side Story Brampton Music Theatre 1
Photography by Bryan McGowan

The stage is set for West Side Story

“Something’s Coming” to Brampton, and it’s going to be Big

It begins with the first note of music and doesn’t end until the final breath is drawn on stage; West Side Story is one that stills time. Known as one of the greatest love stories ever told, Arthur Laurents’ adaptation of Romeo & Juliet remains just as powerful and beautiful as it did when released almost 60 years ago.

The story takes to the streets in the Upper West Side of New York City, mid-1950s, exploring the rivalry between two teenage street gangs of opposite ethnicities. Things take a turn, when two idealistic lovers become caught in the middle of war, crossing between enemy lines of the American Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks.

The ongoing joke about West Side Story is that snapping your fingers (a common action in the show) is a legitimate form of gang violence. However, for the cast of Brampton Music Theatre, they take that joke with a grain of salt and hone into the dark and beautiful truths that are placed between the lines of the script and score.

“It’s so much more than just a love story,” Gabriela Farais (Maria) says, “it’s about struggle, discrimination and cultures coming together, trying to find their commonalities.”

Farais, a BMT veteran, has played this role before and is excited to relive her experience as Maria. Coming back ten years later I look at Maria in a very different perspective than I had once before. I didn’t see the depth and many subtleties she has.”

Farais, makes reference the script, explaining how Maria mentions her father being afraid. “She doesn’t say proud or strong; she says afraid. It’s her intuitiveness that shows me Maria is not [as] naïve as I once thought.”

Just like Maria, who proves that age holds no bounds, the company consists of a variety of age; who collectively possess a long list of talents. The years range from the age of 13 all the way up to, let’s say 60 to keep things safe, many of them triple threats, some of them their first show.

“You’ll see a lot of very thoughtful performances,” Farais says with a heartfelt tone, “from an incredible, remarkably talented group of people coming together in a collaborative way.”

The aptitudes within the show spread throughout, involving a production team of: two choreographers, a musical and artistic director with assistants, two producers, props, stage management, costumes and many other countless volunteers making this happen.

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“It takes a village,” Musical Director and President of BMT, Sharon Vandrish says. “It really is the amalgamation of many people and their efforts.” She describes the group as a team holding up a ball and if one person lets go, the whole thing is to fall. “The final product is the tip of the iceberg, but there’s so much happening that many don’t see.”

For BMT, that’s their (not so secret) key to thriving as a community group; after all, they have been performing for over fifty years. However, in their extensive history of productions, West Side Story was one classic they had yet to notch into their belt.

“It’s about time!” Vandrish laughs, “Before we just didn’t want to take the risk of doing a poor job…but we are there now. BMT is ready.”

Prepared and eager, this production of West Side Story makes the line between professional and community theatre a mere dot. Within moments of sitting down in the beautiful Rose theatre, you will be taken back in time to submerge in the best and the worst of that era. More importantly, you’ll be brought back to reflect, with your heart lost to the other side of the curtain; that’s the magnificence of live theatre.

This show speaks to all walks of life, with honesty painting a very vivid picture. For Vandrish, when asked about how the show made her feel, she had but only one word: moved.

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Voicing the reality of that power, Farais illuminates what that means for this performance, “I think theatre in general teaches us most about humanity. In this musical particularly, it is so poignant that we understand how to live together in peace and harmony. It may sound cliché but this play was written in the 1950’s with issues that still exist today. It instills us to go against our superficial differences and to come back to the root of humanity; which ultimately is love.”

West Side Story runs at the Rose Theatre Brampton from November 10th to November 19th, 2016. Tickets are available at the Rose Theatre box office or online.