From 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 25, the Village Library will host the ever-popular New York State K-9 Unit, who will demonstrate how police dogs help them with their work. There is also still time to sign up for the STEM Class on video programming taking place from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. July 23 to 26. The class is geared toward kids 11 to 14. Both of the above programs are made possible by the Friends of the Village Library. Don’t forget San Diego media personality Jane Mitchell will present a special “Nights of the Round Table” program about this year’s Hall of Famers at 7 p.m. Thursday, July 26.

When people talk about the greatest musicals of all-time “West Side Story” has to rank in the top 10. It first appeared on Broadway in 1957 and its most popular showtunes still resonate today. The original production won two Tony awards and the subsequent film in 1961 won 10 Oscars, including Best Picture. To witness a first-class performance of such a popular musical is a “can’t miss” proposition.

It is why the announcement last year that the Glimmerglass Festival was going to produce “West Side Story” as part of its 2018 season caused such excitement. They had to add two performances to its original schedule since the demand for tickets was so immense. For those fortunate enough to witness the production will not be disappointed. The end result will leave you with a breathtaking feeling that could last a lifetime.

Combining such a classic musical with the Glimmerglass Festival is a match made in heaven. Everything about the production is first-rate. The casting, costumes and choreography are out of this world. And the set designs are the best I’ve ever seen at Glimmerglass. It includes a “twist” in the second act that produces a “wow” reaction from the audience.

For those that don’t know the premise, “West Side Story” is a modern-day “Romeo and Juliet” love story set against the backdrop of two rival gangs in New York City. Maria, the sister of the Puerto Rican leader of the “Sharks,” meets and falls in love with Tony, the Caucasian former leader of the “Jets” after they meet at a local dance. It would difficult enough for their love to survive under normal circumstances, but the rival gang connection complicates it even more.

The animosity and racial bias between the two gangs over who controls the local “turf” has been growing and a “rumble” (fight) is bound to be the ultimate outcome. Maria wants Tony to stop it, but he is highly dubious he can be successful. He only agrees to try because of his love for her. Despite his best efforts the rumble takes place with tragic consequences. How will Maria and Tony’s romance be able to survive the outcome?

It is difficult to separate performances in Glimmerglass productions because the talent level is always so high. But it’s clear (at least to me) that Vanessa Becerra as Maria and Amanda Castro as Anita steal the show. Whether it’s because they look their parts, have such booming voices or simply get to sing the classiest of the classic show tunes, they stand out.

As an aside, the timing of the production can’t help but make you think of the tensions that exist in our country toward Puerto Rico, especially following the devastating effects of the ironically named Hurricane Maria. The classic show tune “America” alternatively praises and makes fun of the island that is a U.S. commonwealth. We’re reminded that the stereotypes from the 1950s are still with us today.

Whatever social reflections “West Side Story” invokes, it is still one incredible musical and we are fortunate to have the Glimmerglass Festival bring us a production that could easily appear on Broadway. If you aren’t lucky enough to attend one of the productions, or want to relive some of the great memories, the Village Library has two options available to you.

Thanks to the generosity of the Guild of Glimmerglass Festival, we have both the DVD of the original 1961 movie starring Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer, and a new book/DVD called “Leonard Bernstein Conducts West Side Story” about the making of the film. One way or another, you can experience an American classic. The Glimmerglass Festival has struck gold once again.

Short Takes:

“Before and Again” by Barbara Delinsky presents a novel of a woman who is trying to forget her past. Mackenzie Cooper blinked for one second and caused the auto accident that claimed the life of her 5 year old daughter. Years later, trying to survive in a small town in Vermont with a new life, circumstances lead to her facing the memory all over again. It’s another character study that the New York Times best-selling author is known for.

“Famous Father Girl: A Memoir of Growing Up Bernstein” by Jamie Bernstein is apropos reading considering Leonard Bernstein wrote the music for “West Side Story.” Learn what it was like to part of the household of a musical genius. Bernstein is very familiar to us baby boomers who grew up watching his “Young Children’s Concerts” back in the 1960s. One reader described the memoir as “extraordinary.”

“My United States: New York” by Cody Cane is a children book’s that presents a bit of facts, figures and history of New York state. It’s a chance for readers young and old to learn what made and makes this state a special place. The book is part of the special gift offering by the Library of Congress.

 David Kent is the village librarian in Cooperstown. 

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