“West Side Story,” a classic musical about young love in a background of warring street gangs, fights, tragedy and death, opened Friday at The Theatre in the Park.
The show marks the 50th in which Ann McCroskey and Mark Swezey have teamed up, she as choreographer and Swezey as director.
The first time they worked together as choreographer and director was in 1983 and that show also was “West Side Story.” McCroskey was a senior at Shawnee Mission South and Swezey was director of theater at South. “I played one of the Jets girls and also choreographed the show,” she said.
“When Mark asked me to choreograph ‘West Side Story’ this year, he laughed and said, ‘It’s our golden anniversary, you know.’ That’s neat,” McCroskey said. “We’re a close family and being together in the show is a thrill for me. I’m taking it all in.”
McCroskey’s niece Celia Thompson plays Maria, the female lead. Her children also are in the show: Nicole, 21, a senior at the University of Kansas, and Mitchell, 18, a sophomore at the University of Arizona.
This is the fourth time Celia Thompson has been in “West Side Story” but her first as Maria. This is her third show with Swezey as director. “I was Belle in ‘Beauty and the Beast’ in 2010 and in ‘Chicago’ the next year. Both were in White Theatre at the Jewish Community Center. I enjoy working with Mark,” Thompson said.
The Theatre in the Park holds pleasant memories for Thompson. She met her husband, David, at an all-cast party at The Theatre in 1997. “I was in ‘Crazy for You’ and David was in ‘Guys and Dolls.’ We dated a few times then went off to different colleges,” she said.
“After college I went to New York to pursue a theater career. We met again in 2010 when I was back in Kansas City. We dated for six months, then married and now we live in Olathe,” Thompson said.
“David and I were together in ‘Legally Blonde’ when our second anniversary rolled around in 2012. We decided we’d celebrate with a picnic at the same place we met at the cast party. It was romantic,” she said.
“West Side Story” has a special meaning for her. “My grandmother came to Chicago from Puerto Rico when she was 20 years old. We’ve talked often about that era and she says life for Puerto Ricans then was much like it’s depicted in ‘West Side Story,’” Thompson said. “My grandmother will be here this week to see the show.”
This is the first time Brian Shortess of Kansas City has been in “West Side Story.” He plays Tony, the male lead. “I do five or six community and professional theater shows a year. This is my third one at The Theatre in the Park.” He was previously in “Guys and Dolls” and “Hairspray.”
“Tony’s a great role. I love it. The music is fantastic,” Shortess said. “My favorite is ‘Tonight’ a duet I sing with Maria. ‘Maria’ is another beautiful song. There are so many of them.”
“West Side Story” is the second show in which Shortess’ character dies before the final curtain. “I also got killed when I was in ‘Brigadoon,’” he said with a laugh.
Ricardo Renteria plays Bernardo, leader of the Sharks, and Dakota Hoar plays Riff, leader of the Jets.
“West Side Story” plays tonight and Sunday and again Wednesday through Saturday at The Theatre in the Park. Curtain time is 8:30 p.m.
“West Side Story,” June 20, 21 and 24, 25, 26, 27.
Curtain time at The Theatre in The Park is 8:30 p.m. The box office opens at 6 p.m. Admission is adults $8, youths $6 and children under three free. The theater is offering Thrifty Thursday pricing in which patrons receive a 20 percent discount on tickets purchased at the box office for that night’s show.
The Theatre in the Park is located in Shawnee Mission Park.