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Merced theatre stages classic lovers tragedy
west side story
Tony (Keegan McKenna) and Maria (Rachel Pearre) are star-crossed lovers in Playhouse Merceds production of West Side Story. - photo by Photo Contributed

“West Side Story,” the dramatic musical that centers around two teenage street gangs in 1950s New York City, begins a three-weekend run on the Playhouse Merced mainstage at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
“West Side Story,” inspired by “Romeo and Juliet,” focuses on two lovelorn teenagers. Tony hails from a working class neighborhood of Polish-Americans and is a member of the Jets street gang. He meets and falls in love with Maria, a Puerto Rican and the sister of Bernardo, the leader of the Sharks — the hated rival gang of the Jets. 

The two gangs are battling over territory in New York’s upper west side and Tony and Maria are caught in the middle.

“West Side Story” debuted on Broadway in 1957, with a book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a conception by Jerome Robbins.  It ran for over 750 performances, and won several Tony Awards. It features well known musical numbers like “Maria,” “America,” “Cool” and “I Feel Pretty.”

Since that time, it has been revived for the stage many times, and performed all over the world.  The 1961 movie won the Academy Award for Best Picture.   

Playhouse Merced’s production is directed by Rob Hypes, musically directed by Brad Reed and choreographed by Noelle Chandler and Anthony Hughes.  Tony is played by Merced resident Keegan McKenna and Maria is played by Modesto resident Rachel Pearre.  The cast of close to 40 actors, singers and dancers spans the entire Central Valley.  

The show is meant for an audience of 13 years or older, given some of the mature content.

“West Side Story” opens Friday and plays three weekends through June 16. Show times are at 7:30 p.m. for Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. for Sunday shows.  Tickets prices are $20 for adults, $19 for seniors, $10 for students, and $8 for children.  Purchase tickets by calling 725-8587, or visiting the box office at 452 West Main, in downtown Merced, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.