On Saturday, The Glimmerglass Festival opened its 43rd season with a performance of Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story.” While the show has become a well-known classic in the American musical world, the Festival’s production still felt fresh, captivating the audience’s attention.

The first aspect of the show to strike me was the choreography, as the Jets started dancing as soon as the curtain rose. Even the fighting between the Jets and the Sharks had a delicate quality to it, as each lunge and punch was carefully planned and masterfully executed. The most impressive dance sequence was in the number “America,” during which Anita, played by Amanda Castro, performed a daunting series of kicks, jumps, twirls and more in a pair of high heels.

The costuming at Glimmerglass is always extremely well done, with costume designer Jessica Jahn’s attention to detail noticeable in each piece. The Jets were clad in cool colors, sticking mainly to blues, greens and whites, while the Sharks had more vibrant tones, with many yellows, reds and oranges apparent. However, the costumes of both Tony and Maria were both much more understated, and while both had traces of their gang’s colors, their clothing faded toward a more neutral white, the color of a truce flag.

The set was remarkable, featuring many moving parts, including the graffitied storefront of Doc’s drugstore, which was lowered from the rafters. The most intricate portion was undoubtably the façade of Maria’s building, which included the fire escape that witnessed the beginning of a forbidden romance. Halfway through the show, the audience is shocked as this set piece rotates outward, revealing Maria’s fully furnished bedroom inside, complete with posters of a teenage heartthrob and a painting of Jesus on the wall.

While the dancing, costuming and set design are always phenomenal, it is the singing that truly takes my breath away. I should not be surprised at this point, but every year I am continually floored by the tremendous talent that every single performer in each show possesses. Soprano Vanessa Becerra, in the role of Maria, has a smooth tone that blended beautifully with Joseph Leppek’s tenor. Leppek also sang an angelic falsetto at several points throughout the performance, and while it was probably quite difficult, it looked perfectly painless from where I was sitting.

It was exciting to see people I actually know performing: Maria Noto, a Cooperstown graduate, and Molly Bowen, a junior at Cooperstown, were playing Clarice and Pauline, respectively. They both did a spectacular job dancing, and I was happy to see that two talented people I once sang alongside of in high school shows got the opportunity to perform at such a prestigious level.

As much as I enjoy simply appreciating the artistic beauty of Glimmerglass’s production, it is impossible to escape the deeper message behind this show. The Glimmerglass Festival chose to give this performance a modern feel with clear intention, as the narratives within West Side Story are scarily timely. Our nation is gripped by a refugee crisis, an immigration crisis and a rise in nativism, creating a landscape not too different from the streets patrolled by the Sharks and Jets. Shifting societal, economic and political paradigms place us in a time full of tension and potential, and we are given choices that will determine the outcome of this turning point. We could choose to stay insulated and prejudiced against “the other,” telling our neighbors, “we got troubles of our own!” like the Jets sing in the song “Gee, Officer Krupke.” We could choose to be concerned, but ultimately refuse to act, like Doc does, shaking his head in disappointment at the boys who call themselves men while they hold a War Council, but not really trying to change the status quo. Finally, we could choose to be filled with conviction, and then use that conviction to try and manifest the dream we think should be reality, just like Maria and Tony. Will mistakes be made? Of course. Tony killed and was killed, but Maria forgave him, and she had enough love in her heart to stop the violence with Tony’s death. It takes much more strength and courage to seek out your enemy and reach peace than it does to blindly lash out with hate.

The Glimmerglass Festival does not fail to put this momentous decision on the audience when, at the end of the show, Maria says, “All of you! You all killed him!” and the company slowly looks at one another in silence, before turning and directing their gaze at the audience as the curtain falls. It is a somber moment, but one that needs to occur; we get complacent in our lives and wrapped up in our own problems. We fail to reach out to others struggling within our own community, let alone concern ourselves with worldwide issues. We hide behind our differences in education, politics, religion, race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and so on, slicing our towns into territories, with places for “us” and places for “them.” It is now our challenge to heal the breaches that exist in our country, to be the Maria that has hope for a someday, somewhere, where love and peace will prevail.

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