‘Somewhere’ to Dream When ‘West Side Story’ Rumbles

Alejandro Candelaria’s (Michael Rosen) Broadway debut at 12 years old opposite Yule Brynner in The King and I was either legendary or forgettable depending on who’s telling the story in Matthew Lopez’s Somewhere at the Hartford Stage.

The dancer could have been a star like his absent father, Pepe, but life got in the way and he stopped dreaming. The East Coast premier of the show runs for another two weeks at the Church Street theater in Hartford.

As Alejandro devotes his time to working, cooking and taking care of his Puerto Rican family in 1959 New York City, putting dancing behind him, his family never stops encouraging him to dream.

Alejandro (Michael Rosen) dances again in "Somewhere." Credit: T. Charles Erickson

Alejandro (Michael Rosen) dances again in “Somewhere.” Credit: T. Charles Erickson

West Side Story is big on Broadway and the family turns to musical theater and dance as an escape and inspiration. His brother, Francisco (Zachary Infante) wants to be the next Marlon Brando, his sister, Rebecca (Jessica Naimy) bursts with enthusiasm about her dream of being a Broadway dancer and his mother, Inez (Priscilla Lopez) dreams for her children to be successful in the arts. Jamie (Cary Tedder), the boy his family took in as one of their own when his alcoholic parents abandoned him, has achieved success as a Broadway dancer and choreographer working opposite renowned choreographer, director and producer Jerome Robbins. But his theatrical accolades also distance him from his adoptive family as they struggle to pay rent.

Then two things happen that will challenge whether realism or dreaming triumph in the way the characters look at the world. Robert Moses’ West Side development conquest for the Lincoln Square Urban Renewal Project pushes the Candelarias out of their apartment, which will be demolished along with 14 blocks of homes and businesses in the neighborhood and condemned as a slum to make way for Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Their passion is theater, but is New York’s new art district plan worth their eviction? But then, after they are forced to take public housing, the film production of West Side Story starts shooting in the projects near their new home.

Francisco (Infante) races home to tell his family of the great news that he got into another fight – not with a real gang this time but withWest Side Story‘s Jets actors in the middle of the playground shoot for the film.

In "Somewhere," Francisco Candelarias (Zachary Infante) tells his family about stumbling onto set of "West Side Story" on the way home through the playground and getting in a fight with the Jets. Credit: T. Charles Erickson

In “Somewhere,” Francisco Candelarias (Zachary Infante) tells his family about stumbling onto set of “West Side Story” on the way home through the playground and getting in a fight with the Jets. Credit: T. Charles Erickson

 

According to the show’s program, West Side Story director Robert Wise gave Lincoln Center project contractors $5,000 to hold off on demolishing 67th and 68th Street homes so they could film the opening scene of the movie in the neighborhood. Maybe the Candelarias’ faith in dreaming could be their ticket to success and out of poverty after all. But it could also be a distraction to survival.

All of the characters burst in passion from their fingers to their toes in big dance numbers that often symbolize their dreams for the future.

One of many dance numbers in "Somewhere." Credit: T. Charles Erickson

One of many dance numbers in “Somewhere.” Credit: T. Charles Erickson

If you like the  song and dance of a musical, you’ll get that in Somewhere in tribute to the West Side Story era. Choreographer Greg Graham has TV credits for SMASH and Ugly Betty and has choreographed FosseHairsprayChicagoDirty Rotten Scoundrels and Billy Elliot on Broadway. Bill Sherman, Tony Award-winning composer of In the Heights, did the original music for the show.

Rebecca Candelaria (Jessica Naimy) and Jamie (Cary Tedder) do a Charlie Chaplin-like dance number in "Somewhere." Credit: T. Charles Erickson

Rebecca Candelaria (Jessica Naimy) and Jamie (Cary Tedder) do a Charlie Chaplin-like dance number in “Somewhere.” Credit: T. Charles Erickson

But you’ll also get an intriguing plot and deep characters from a well-written script. Playwright Lopez is also one of the writers on HBO hit The Newsroom. He has a connection with the Hartford Stage as a 2012-13 Aetna New Voices Fellow and a former mentor for the theater’s Write On and Project Transform high school programs, according to the playbill.

Lopez wrote the part of Inez Candelaria for his aunt, Priscilla Lopez, a past Tony Award winner who stars as the character in the production at Hartford Stage. Prescilla Lopez had an uncredited role in the West Side Story film and is best known for her role as Diana Morales in Broadway hit A Chorus Line (1975).

Inez Candelaria (Priscilla Lopez) dances with her eldest son, Alejandro (Michael Rosen). Credit: T. Charles Erickson

Inez Candelaria (Priscilla Lopez) dances with her eldest son, Alejandro (Michael Rosen). Credit: T. Charles Erickson

Infante provides the comic relief with every movement, gesture and vocal inflection and Naimy epitomizes the exuberant dreamer.

Rebecca (Jessica Naimy) and Francisco Candelaria (Zachary Infante) dance for their family in "Somewhere," showcasing their Broadway dreams. Credit: T. Charles Erickson

Rebecca (Jessica Naimy) and Francisco Candelaria (Zachary Infante) dance for their family in “Somewhere,” showcasing their Broadway dreams. Credit: T. Charles Erickson

Act I is full of innocent hope and comedy, but the despair that interrupts the light-heartedness in the play brings out some of the most powerful scenes and dramatic character arches before intermission and in Act 2. When a wrecking ball finally comes down on the Candelarias’ building, nothing rattles the audience and characters into reality more than Alejandro (Rosen) yelling for his stubborn mother to get out of her room and for his siblings to pack up whatever they can and evacuate as the walls rumble and their ceiling crumbles.

Rosen, who actually starred in a Broadway production of West Side Story and who is on leave from Yale in New Haven, brings the most emotion to his character, Alejandro toward the second act when he is breaking from the stress of protecting his family. His seemingly humble refusal to dance again and audition for West Side Story, the play or the film, is not the real problem. In his own way, he hasn’t stopped acting since he gave up the arts as he puts up a facade of strength to protect his family. As the outer walls of his character crumble with the rest of his neighborhood, it exposes the truth about a lie he crafted that could emotionally ruin his family and darken their dreams.

Michael Rosen leaps as his character, Alejandro Candelaria remembers his long-lost passion for dancing. Credit: T. Charles Erickson

Michael Rosen leaps as his character, Alejandro Candelaria remembers his long-lost passion for dancing. Credit: T. Charles Erickson

“I don’t want to see the world as it could be. I want to see it as it is,” Alejandro shouts through tears when he finally expresses the seriousness of his troubles.

The title, Somewhere is a play on the Stephen Sondheim lyrics from Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story song by the same name. In West Side Story, the differences between the American Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks threaten Tony and Maria’s Romeo- and Juliet-like relationship after he kills Bernardo, her brother and Shark leader, in a rumble. Tony sings “Somewhere” to comfort Maria and she joins in on the duet as they dream of a life together without conflict, somewhere.

“There’s a place for us, 
Somewhere a place for us. 
Peace and quiet and open air 
Wait for us 
Somewhere. 

“There’s a time for us, 
Some day a time for us, 
Time together with time spare, 
Time to learn, time to care, 
Some day! 

“Somewhere. 
We’ll find a new way of living, 
We’ll find a way of forgiving 
Somewhere . . .”

The Candelarias share the same hope in their dreams for theatrical success and survival as a family.

A family dinner at the Candelaria household in 1959 New York in "Somewhere." Credit: T. Charles Erickson

A family dinner at the Candelaria household in 1959 New York in “Somewhere.” Credit: T. Charles Erickson

You’ll feel like a part of the Candelarias’ neighborhood with the laundry lines strung over the audience. Audience members’ proximity to the thrust three-sided stage and aisle exits/entrances allow you to see every detail of emotion on the characters’ faces. Tony Award winner Donyale Werle designed the set.

Somewhere, directed by Giovanna Sardelli, is a comedy, a tragedy, a musical and a drama wrapped up into one show. But it is also something else. History – which after all is the production of both realists and dreamers.

The show runs through May 4 at the Hartford Stage, located at 50 Church St. More information on the production, show dates and tickets are available on the Hartford Stage website, www.hartfordstage.org.

 

Advertisements

Theatre Guild of Simsbury Puts ‘Almost, Maine’ On the Map

East (Wilson Keithline) tells Glory (Penny Carroll) why she can't find Almost, Maine on the map. Credit: Theatre Guild of Simsbury

East (Wilson Keithline) tells Glory (Penny Carroll) why she can’t find Almost, Maine on the map. Credit: Theatre Guild of Simsbury

You won’t find Almost, Maine on a traditional map. But in the Theatre Guild of Simsbury‘s production of John Cariani‘s Almost, Maine, you’ll find it in your heart.

“See, to be a town, you gotta get organized. And we never got around to gettin’ organized, so … we’re just Almost,” East (Wilson Keithline, of Simsbury) tells a stranger named Glory (Penny Carroll, of Simsbury) camped out in his yard looking for the Northern Lights.

The Mainers you’ll meet on your trip just almost get to where they want to be in love and their hearts take them on a journey of self discovery to find out what love means to them.

Almost, Maine is like Love Actually meets The Twilight Zone of metaphors. The play, directed by Simsbury resident Karen Sidel, is broken up into nine vignettes of love stories. The scenarios explore many facets of love from new romances and rediscovered love to heartbreak and the acceptance of a fading marriage. The vignettes are punctuated with three comical, short and dialogue-light sketches about the first time teenagers Pete (Athan Chekas, of Canton) and Ginette (Melissa Silvanic Veale, of Simsbury) profess their love for each other. 

While the scenes themselves could be their own ten-minute one-act plays, they are connected  by location, time and community as some of the segments reference characters and places from other scenes like the hometown Moose Paddy pub  where Jimmy (Rick Fiocco, of Cheshire) bumps into old flame Sandrine (Christen Feola, of Simsbury) and explains the meaning of his Villian tattoo.

The structure reminded me of a novel of short stories Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout (who, like me, attended Bates College in Lewiston, Maine and has appeared in Avon, Conn. for an author talk). In the book, also set in Maine, each chapter is its own story told from different perspectives, but they are organized in chronological fashion so it reads like a novel. The principal character, Olive Kitteridge is somehow connected to each short story, whether she is our narrator or she’s walking across the scene in someone else’s story.

Almost, Maine is riddled with near science fiction moments of suspended disbelief as vehicles of symbolism and wordplay. A shoe falls from the sky as Phil (Steve O’Brien, of Simsbury) and Marci (Amy Rucci, of Suffield) “wait for the other shoe to drop” in their flickering relationship. Hope (Christy Donahue, of West Hartford) finds her old love (Ron Blanchette, of Ellington) aged as though time has been suspended for her while she contemplates his marriage proposal and returns to give her answer. Gayle (Marilyn Rotondo, of Simsbury) knocks on Lendall’s (Blanchette) door to return bags of the love he gave her and all he can find of her love is one tiny bag. Randy (Tom Raines) and Chad (Rick Fiocco) literally fall in love with each other over and over, sometimes with heavy, potentially painful thuds. Rhonda (Virginia Wolf), a woman who is one of the guys and who’s never been kissed, can’t seem to make out a heartwarming symbol on a painting from her pal Dave (O’Brien) who may want to be more than friends.

While the play does have some very serious moments, it tugs at your heartstrings and makes you feel like a true romantic comedy or dramedy should. Puns, metaphors, slapstick actions and witty humor in the writing give the show the right balance of comedy to make you laugh as enjoyable theater should.

Almost, Maine may always seem to be almost there, but it most certainly arrives.

The original Almost, Maine play was developed by The Cape Cod Theatre Project, according to Cariani’s website. The first Off-Broadway revival production of Almost, Maine wrapped up in February with playwright Cariani, a Tony winner, in the cast. Cariani, of Presque Isle, Maine, is a graduate of Amherst College in Massachusetts and now resides in New York, according to imdb.com On the television screen, he is most known for his role of Julian Beck on Law and Order, the movie database states. Hartford TheaterWorks will stage his 2012 play Love/Sick this spring, according to his website. 

Don’t make Almost, Maine an almost in your calendar. It’s definitely worth a visit.

Doreen Cohn produced the Simsbury show and Laura Garger served as assistant director.

The Theatre Guild of Simsbury’s production of Almost, Maine closes this weekend, running Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and sunday at 2 p.m. at Eno Memorial Hall in Simsbury (754 Hopmeadow St.). Tickets can be purchased online in advance or at the door.  General admission price is $20 and preferred seating is $25.

The theater group is hosting TGS Night Out on Friday and invites members to join the cast at The Local Grill in Avon on Route 10 after the show. RSVP to theatreguildsimsbury@gmail.com.

For more information on the Theatre Guild of Simsbury, Almost, Maine and the cast, visit www.theatreguildsimsbury.org, like the group on Facebook and follow TGS on its new Twitter account (@SimsburyTheatre)

Writer’s Note: Jessie Sawyer is a member of the Theatre Guild of Simsbury and is a newly elected member to the board. She also created the Theatre Guild of Simsbury Twitter account.