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Top notch acting, amazing choreography and set design, and superb musicality

I love a good evening out at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire. For years now, they’ve put on top notch shows that aren’t just good ‘for the suburbs,’ but are great anywhere, with top notch acting, amazing choreography and set design, and superb musicality. I look forward to reviewing these shows and oftentimes find them extremely memorable and exciting, and I particularly enjoy the sort of “theater in the round” experience that literally shows the story from all angles. Victor Malana Maog directs the production, with choreography by Alex Sanchez.

I think everyone has those parts of their cultural oeuvre that are sort of untouchable. Usually, it’s because the artwork or performance resonated with them in a powerful way, and there’s nothing that can quite match the feeling of that particular version. That’s West Side Story for me. It was this magical, colorful, impactful piece of film with a powerful message that left me breathless on first viewing. I love to revisit it sometimes just to get a taste of that feeling. It’s why I was excited but a little nervous to see what transpired on the stage for opening night of West Side Story at the Marriott Lincolnshire.

Putting personal feelings aside, West Side Story is a hard show to stage. It’s demanding musically, with a brilliant but brutal soundtrack, courtesy Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, that’s full of soaring melodies, complex syncopations and range-challenging main themes. It’s even more demanding from a dance perspective, with impeccable choreography that requires the entire cast to have a ridiculous amount of athleticism and grace. And then, the acting and chemistry have to be right. It’s a tall order, but something I’ve known the Marriott Lincolnshire to be able to live up to with similarly challenging shows like Singin’ in the Rain in 2016...

If I had to pick a favorite part of West Side Story at the Marriott Lincolnshire, in this case I’d pick a role. Vanessa Aurora Sierra shone brilliantly every moment she was on stage as Anita. She has impeccable comic timing, laudable dance and vocal chops and brought such a beautiful realness to all her scenes, whether it was a sensuality to her interactions with Gary Cooper’s Nardo or the fierce love and simultaneous annoyance any sibling will understand. It elevated Anita’s story to the forefront and in my opinion, brought that much more of an impact to the tragic ending of West Side Story. Another fantastic player on stage was Marisa Fee’s Anybodys, who stole the show with her fantastic portrayal, pitch perfect for today and full of the same humor and light.

Set design, done masterfully by Jeffrey D Nmiec, was surprisingly minimal but as always, impactful, with a few key pieces giving a sense of place. Amanda Vander Byl’s costuming was also fantastic, matching the tone of the beloved film...

Still, West Side Story is a very formidable show, and one that I’d recommend. While the opening night performance we saw didn’t quite live up to some of the heights of other great, demanding musicals we’ve seen at this theater, it’s still a colorful, dynamic, powerful show that’s a good time for all, whether you, as I, hold the film dear, or not. With a greater message of tolerance and non-violence, I hold hope that West Side Story will resonate for others the way it did with me. The show at Marriott Lincolnshire could be the one to do it.