September 5, 2018


The Sharks and Jets are in their classic rumble mode in Hillbarn Theatre’s production of WEST SIDE STORY. Hillbarn celebrates this stunning musical’s important anniversary currently on stage at the Foster City stage through September 16th. HBT opens their 78th Season with this classic musical. Artistic director Dan Demers says this musical is important for today's issues about immigration, “The plea for tolerance at the core of West Side Story continues to resonate through its outstanding musical score, and time tested story. This Broadway classic continues to have relevance for every new generation.”

Director Erica Wyman Abrahamson has assembled a brilliant cast of 30 actors/dancers. Choreographer Kim Harvath honors the conception of Jerome Robbins’ ground-breaking dances as the cast does their best in a small space to lift this show. Musical Director Ricky Reynolds conducts a show stopping 22-piece orchestra that truly captures Bernstein’s original complex score.

Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, and Arthur Laurents would be incredibly impressed by Reynold’s amazing orchestra that brings this excellent production its full force sound. “Bernstein’s and Sondheim's music is still riveting 61 years later. The mash-up of Latino influences and classical Broadways tropes conjure a stunning score with influential songs like "Tonight," "Maria," and "Something's Coming." They were matched by Jerome Robbins' brilliant choreography.


This reimagining of Shakespeare's Romeo And Juliet  is known for its deft staging that showcases hip jazz choreography executed by a talented and youthful cast. WEST SIDE STORY scored two Tonys in 1958, the year THE MUSIC MAN took best musical. Hillbarn Theatre brings a powerful show with dazzling choreography by Harvath and stunning fight scenes by Zoe Swenson-Graham. The opening “Prologue” number takes us deep into the story’s rivalry from the first note. The company springs on stage completely using designer Ting Na Wangs’ busy, blucky set. Wang's Bridal shop is full of character and color, but Doc’s diner is distracting and seemed to make it difficult for the company to work around. The diner is only used two times, yet sits in the middle of the stage as an eyesore throughout the whole show.

The charismatic Jeffrey Brian Adams as Tony has been collecting well earned rave reviews whenever he is on a Bay Area stage. Adams can add this to his list of triumphs. He projects youthful naiveté, which at first seems at odds with Tony's gang leader past, but bares his soul when he is love struck, and everything in the world becomes possible for him. His soaring renditions of "Something's Coming" and "Maria" and the duets "Tonight" and "One Hand, One Heart" fill the stage with his bold emotion.

The delightful Ana Paula Malagon plays Maria. She shines with the yearning of a girl longing for true love and meaning, radiant in finding it, and unshakable in her faith. She projects Maria's playful yet innocent nature. Her voice is full and lovely, blending beautifully with Adams' in their duets including the unforgettable “Tonight”.

Danielle Philapil is terrific as Anita, the fireball who freely admits to her physical longing for Bernardo, while protecting Maria's virtue. She sings cynically in "America," seductively in "The Quintet," and ferociously in "A Boy Like That," and her dancing is amazing. In that, she is well matched with Jorge Diaz as Bernardo. His performance captures Bernardo's wounded pride and the need to have a place in his new home lead him to gang life, and his natural leadership is evident.

The amazing energy Diaz and Philapil perform in "Dance at the Gym" have stiff competition from the Jets' leader, Riff, played by the accomplished Josiah Framton and the keen Breanna van Gastel as his girlfriend Graziella. Frampton’s portrayal of Riff underscores his cool head and determination to hang on to his hard won street cred. In his encounter with his best friend Tony, he reveals vulnerability as an affirmation of their bond of friendship. Frampton is also a talented dancer in the dance numbers “Jet Song” and “Cool”. Bernstein’s and Sondheim’s music and lyrics are one of the main reasons for the enduring strength with a list of iconic songs including “America”, “Somewhere” and “I Feel Pretty.”

The large talented cast of thirty all have strong vocals and dance skills, their lively performance never stops; they are at a hundred percent. Phiapil’s voice is perfect in “A Boy Like That” and costume designer Raven Winter’s dresses the female company swoon with color and motion. Winter’s, with assistance from Issac Booth, costumes are spot on and beaming in the gym scene. Perfectly fit young men striving to look tough, the young ladies hoping to be desirable between New York cool and Puerto Rican tropical senses of style. The girls’ wigs are 50’s perfect also by Winter’s along with the authentic props designed by Phyllis Garland.

The Jets fly on stage in the iconic number “Cool” set in the diner, and include the sizzling Jack Swartz, James Schott, Neil Rushnock, and Luke Arnold. The Jet girls are all stellar; Rachelle Abbey, Christen Baker, Danielle Cheiken and Fiona O’Neill. The Sharks dressed in their maroon and red tops include Armand Akbari, Jose Gallentes, Carlos Nunez, Catherine Traceski and Victor Valasquez.

Director Abrahamson brings the classic ballet scene back to the second act that is part of the extended version of “I Feel Pretty” featuring Rushnock and Cheiken. Harvath is content to reproduce Robbins' original choreography as faithfully as possible. The dream sequence ballet is particularly well done with the idealised, white-uniformed Jets and Sharks shifting in a second from Balanchine-like beauty to knife wielding brutality as both Bernardo and Riff return to the dream ballet.

Other notable performances include the excellent Richard Ames in the adult cast as Doc, the diner owner. The cocky Shawn Bender as Officer Krupke and his thug cop pal, Glad Hand, played by David Blackburn. The imposing Marty Lee Jones as the bigoted gang member Schrank and Maria's intended boyfriend is well played by Jose Gallentes. Also excellent is Katie Maupin as the tough, tomboy Anybodys. The tall impressive Tyler Harding as the thug but protective Jet, Diesel. The scene stealer is the confident and charismatic Tucker Gold as Baby John.

The “gang” still creates some dark moments, Anita’s close call with the Jets sets off a rape scene that is very dramatic and well staged by Abrahamson. The Lighting design by Pamila Gray was dark and gloomy for many of the sensitive dance numbers and fight scenes. Stage Manager Danielle Santana Combs kept the large cast on cue and led a busy run crew creating the diner blucky set with smooth transitions.

Bernstein's complex score is one of the most difficult to recreate, and when it is done correct, it will wow you. Music director Reynolds assembled a first rate pit of musicians that brings this musical to life. You could just enjoy the texture of this musical by the orchestration alone. Reynolds’ work is to be applauded along with his 22 piece polished orchestra, they steal this already well executed production. The props by Garland’s team include all the correct items for Maria’s Bridal shop, Doc’s diner and the weapons for the rumble. Especially memorable the mannequins used for the adoring song with the two lovers “One Hand, One Heart”.

The opening weekend sold out crowds were on their feet at shows end. WEST SIDE STORY remains a powerful classic of Broadway history and still shines in 2018. Up next at HILLBARN is NOISES OFF opening this fall Oct 11th. The Bay Area Premiere of Ken Ludwig’s LEADING LADIES opens next spring 2019. In the meantime it is a “GO SEE” that you experience Hillbarn Theatre current winning production of this American Theatre classic WEST SIDE STORY. This is a perfect way to begin your fall theatre season.




Based on a Conception of Jerome Robbins

Music by Leonard Bernstein, Book by Arthur Laurents

 Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

Directed by Erica Wyman Abrahamson

Musical Direction/Conducting by Rick Reynolds

Choreography by Kim Harvath

Only through Sept 16th

Hillbarn Theatre

1285 East Hillsdale Blvd.

Foster City, CA 94404

Two Hours 30 minutes with a 15 min intermission




Photos by Tracy Martin and Mark Kitoka



Rachelle Abbey, Jeffrey Brian Adams, Armand Akbari, Richard Ames, Luke Arnold

Christine Baker, David Blackburn, Shawn Bender, Danielle Cheiken, Angela Curotto-Pierson, Jorge Diaz, Josiah Frampton, Jose Gallentes, Tucker Gold, Tyler Harding, Allie Lev, Joseph Macadaeg, Ana Paula Malagon. Katie Maupin, Randy O’Hara, Fiona O’Neill, Danielle Philapil, Catherine Rieflin, Neil Rushnock, James Schott, Jack Swartz, Catherine Traceski, Victor Valasquez, and Breanna Van Gastel






















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