Another story of love, tragedy from the Acting Out Theatre Co. comes to Kankakee streets

July 15, 2018

If you enjoyed reading “Romeo and Juliet” in your high school English class, you may be delighted by “West Side Story,” a production by the Acting Out Theatre Co., which will be performed on an outdoor stage on Court Street in Kankakee this coming week.

The Tony Award-winning musical is a modern day version of William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Playwright Arthur Laurents created Maria and Tony, two teenagers who live in the Upper West Side of New York City in the ’50s.

Tony’s gang, the Jets, and Maria’s Sharks are facing a rivalry akin to Shakespeare’s original story, which teaches its audience about accepting differences and rejecting hatred.

“There are a lot of themes of ‘us and them’ throughout ‘West Side Story,’ which is still a very prevalent and controversial topic today,” said Andrew McBurnie, who portrays Tony in the musical. “We watch Tony struggle being in between the gang violence of the Jets and Sharks, and falling in love and looking past skin color and gang differences in Maria.”

Just as Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” has remained relevant, the lessons taught in “West Side Story” are still as important as they were when the musical premiered on Broadway in 1957 with hit songs such as “America,” “Somewhere” and “Something’s Coming.”

“It addresses racism, stereotyping, and the consequences of hate,” said Micaela Sharman, who was cast as Maria. “I believe the story has a powerful message about empathy and understanding.”

The production’s relevant themes, popular music and captivating dance routines ensure that audiences of every background, age and gender will find something to love within the musical.

“This show has absolutely beautiful and timeless music, and I would never categorize it as just ‘show tunes,’” McBurnie said. “And the dancing is very unique and challenging, but when done right, it is absolutely stunning to watch.”

The Acting Out Theatre Co. chooses a different location to perform every summer.

“Their goal is to not just do theater outdoors, but to choose a location and environment that enriches the story by reflecting the time and setting of the actual story,” said Jerry Cohagan, staging director of “West Side Story” and theater director-professor at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais.

“The Court Street buildings, with their brick facade and fire escapes, are a perfect setting for this tale of two gangs scrabbling to make a place for themselves in an urban setting,” Cohagan said.

“West Side Story” has found its a perfect location, actors and crew members. The production is expected to be a success for everyone involved and should entertain and teach its audience.

“Even though the story has its share of tragedy, you will see at the end a glimmer of hope,” said Sharon Richardson, managing director of “West Side Story.” “So it teaches our audience that we can surmount racism and bigotry if we work together instead of against each other.”

“West Side Story” will be performed at 8 p.m. Friday through Sunday behind the Key Printing building at 111 E. Court St. Gates will open at 5:15 p.m. Viewers are encouraged to bring a lawn chair.

Before the show begins each evening, the AOTC will hold a “West Side Fest” at 5:30 p.m. While audiences wait for the show to begin, they are welcome to eat, drink and socialize right in front of the set. Food services will be provided by several local businesses, including Sweet Street, Bennett Curtis House and Grapes & Hops.

Advance tickets can be purchased for $18 at Joy’s Hallmark in Kankakee, King Music in Bradley or online at showclix.com. Tickets may also be purchased at the gate for $25.

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