Coming to Vista is the musical that took Romeo and Juliet, plopped them in the 1950s and added a turf war between rival New York City gangs to their star-crossed romance. The enduring West Side Story is the upcoming show at Moonlight Stage Productions, the latest entry of its 39th summer season. West Side’s run will last from August 14-31.
The beloved and enduring musical tells the tale of two members of a pair of warring rival New York City gangs—the white ‘Jets’ and the Puerto Rican ‘Sharks’—Tony and Maria. They fall in love and sing their hearts out, but as this story is based on Shakespeare’s most infamous romance, strife lurks right around the street corner.
West Side Story was born from the collective minds of director and choreographer Jerome Robbins, composer Leonard Bernstein, lyricist Stephen Sondheim and playwright Arthur Laurents. It was nominated for six Tony Awards upon its debut on Broadway in 1957 and won two. Since then, the production has been revived numerous times for the stage and has also been adapted to film. Even Steven Spielberg has his own take on West Side, which will arrive in theaters next year.
This particular show is being played in tribute to Harold “Hal” Prince, the producer of the Broadway production, who died at the age of 91 on July 31. Prince is noted for having essentially saved the original production by securing its finances, after the previous producer backed out over concerns regarding the musical’s tone. Prince won 21 Tonys over the course of his career, the most of anyone in history.
The show stars Orange County High School of the Arts graduate Bella Gil as Maria, the sister of Sharks leader Bernardo. Gil has performed as the lead in Sweeney Todd, She Loves Me, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, The Secret Garden, Bye Bye Birdie, Follies, and Beauty and the Beast.
Lending a tinge of authenticity, New York City-based actor Michael James Byrne plays Tony, a former Jet. Byrne returns to the Moonlight Amphitheatre after portraying Chad in the 2015 show of All Shook Up. Byrne has also performed in leading roles locally with Mary Poppins, South Pacific, 42nd Street, and Smokey Joe’s Cafe.
Taylor Simmons plays Riff, leader of the Jets. This run will mark Simmons’s sixth production of West Side Story, having already played numerous other characters from the musical. Armando Eleazar will be making his Moonlight Amphitheatre debut as Sharks boss (and Maria’s brother) Bernardo—he will also be partaking in the Broadway revival of West Side later this year. Courtney Arango will also be making her Moonlight debut as well, in the role of Anita.
Photo Caption: The cast of the upcoming “West Side Story” at Vista’s Moonlight Ampitheatre, from left to right: Michael James Byrne, Bella Gil, Taylor Simmons, Steven Glaudini, Hector Guerrero, Courtney Arango and Armando Eleazar.