Summer is rapidly winding to a close, but the 2013 season is still in full swing at Ogunquit Playhouse, with an all-new production of “West Side Story” that elevates the classic tale to soaring new heights.

“West Side Story” is an age-old story of gang rivalry and ill-fated love that harkens back to Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” And the score, composed by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, is renowned for songs such as “Maria,” “Tonight,” “I Feel Pretty,” “Somewhere” and “I Have a Love.”

Veteran director BT McNicholl’s visionary rendition offers a fresh take on the timeless tale.

Utilizing the talents of Broadway showman Jeffry Denman (choreography and musical staging), McNicholl turns mundane fight scenes into art-in-motion. It’s a gang ballet, and never before has a street rumble been so beautiful, or mesmerizing.

Much of the story unfolds through dance, beginning with the rival gangs’ territory tussle during the “Prologue.” As the iconic score fills the playhouse, the soaring music is matched by gravity-defying feats of strength and agility.

The Jets and the Sharks, led by Riff (Kevin Munhall) and Bernardo (Manuel Stark), gracefully glide through the air, rebounding off a set designed exclusively for Ogunquit Playhouse by Michael Schweikardt. It’s a flurry of fluid motion that flows from the stage, into the aisles and out the side doors.

Astounding dance choreography abounds throughout the two-act production, showcasing not only ballet, but also adding ethnic flavor with styles such as mambo and swing.

The dancing makes this production of “West Side Story” an unforgettable sight to behold. Add in the music, and it becomes epic.

Ogunquit Playhouse more than does the beloved score justice with breathtaking orchestration, directed by Ken Clifton, and spellbinding vocals from Carly Evan Hughes (Maria) and Ross Lekites (Tony).

Hughes, a recent graduate of Penn State University, delivers an operatic performance that’s unrestrained by the Earth’s gravitational pull. As with the production’s dancing, her vocals soar to otherworldly heights, ringing out over the audience like a chorus of heavenly bells.

Lekites reprises his role from the musical’s first national tour. He won the hearts of the audience Friday night with captivating vocals, rich with emotion.

The audience longed to be Maria as Lekites expressed Tony’s undying love in “Maria,” and his duet with Hughes on “Tonight” was sublime.

Gabrielle Ruiz delivered a standout performance as Anita, showcasing her dancing talents throughout, and delivering a powerful duet with Hughes on “A Boy Like That/I Have a Love.”

Sarah Rolleston (Rosalia) was haunting on the whimsical “Somewhere.”

“Gee, Officer Krupke” nicely highlighted the talents of the Jets on Friday, with Mikey Winslow heading up the fun-filled antics as Action.

Ogunquit Playhouse’s “West Side Story” is a visually stunning production, with awe-inspiring choreography and unforgettable music. The rendition revitalizes the cherished classic, and reminds theatergoers why the musical is considered to be one of the greatest love stories of all time.

April Boyle is a freelance writer from Casco. She can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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