Arts & Entertainment

'West Side Story' in eastern Washington. Classic musical comes to Kennewick

The Sharks and The Jets face off in Mid-Columbia Musical Theatre's production of 'West Side Story.'
The Sharks and The Jets face off in Mid-Columbia Musical Theatre's production of 'West Side Story.' Courtesy of Carson Roach

In the original "West Side Story," director Jerome Robbins is said to have pitted the actors playing rival teenage gang members against one another.

The Jets didn't talk to the Sharks and vice-versa. Fighting was encouraged.

The idea was to build up animosity that would translate to the stage.

But Megan Johnson — who's directing Mid-Columbia Musical Theatre's take on the classic tale, opening June 22 — is taking the opposite track.

Her Jets and Sharks are working together behind the scenes.

"We’ve developed this mirroring theme — each gang member is assigned a mirror in the other gang. They’ve worked together, fought together, staged together," Johnson said.

And the result is something to see.

"It’s really been lovely," Johnson said. "You see these actors from different schools, different backgrounds, really love each other. It’s been really great."

Performances are at 7:30 p.m. June 22-23 and 28-30 at the bandshell at Columbia Park in Kennewick. Tickets are available now at mcmt.show.

Tyler Zirker and Cleo Howell star as tragic lovers Tony and Maria.

Sergio Bueno, who's also serving as assistant director, plays Maria's brother Bernardo, leader of the Sharks, a Puerto Rican gang.

Kanisha Castillo plays Anita, his girlfriend

Paul Nelson plays Riff, leader of the Jets, a white gang.

The cast largely is made up of young people, including high school students from throughout the Tri-Cities. The Puerto Rican characters are portrayed by Latino actors.

Zirker, 22, of Pasco, sees his character, Tony, as a tragic hero.

And Johnson's approach to the show is resonant and relevant, he said.

"I love the message that the Sharks and the Jets are alike, not different," he said.

"It’s a story about hate, about revenge. What Megan talks about is hate being a secondary response. What causes that anger?" Zirker said. "If everybody could look around at their neighbors and ask, 'How could I understand that better?' — that would be a great take away."

Along with the cast of about 30, more than a dozen people are helping behind the scenes, including Jill Madison as music director/conductor and Heather Johnson as producer.

Bleacher seating is $15 for adults, $13 for seniors and $10 for students and children.

Lawn seating is $20 for adults, $18 for seniors and $10 for students and children. People should bring their own lawn chairs or blankets.

Sara Schilling: 509-582-1529, @saratcherald
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