Paper Mill Playhouse selling ‘West Side Story’ like there’s no tomorrow

“West Side Story,” now in previews at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, NJ, opens on Sunday and even before the reviews are in, it is almost sold out, according to its website.

And why not? It’s a professional production at a theater that not only will receive the 2016 Tony Award for Best Regional Theatre on June 12, it has produced five world premieres in the past five years — two this season alone.

“Newsies” and “Honeymoon in Vegas” moved to Broadway and “A Bronx Tale,” directed by Robert De Niro –yeah, really —  has announced intentions to move there next season. “The Bodyguard,” yes, based on the movie that received its world premiere this season in London, will have it’s American premiere at PMP Nov. 25-Jan. 1. And if you think producers don’t have Broadway in their sights, you haven’t been paying attention.

Credit, I believe, for this surge in visibility, profitability, and credibility is most likely due to the artistic staff. That’s not to say the artists didn’t do their jobs. Moving a non-profit regional theater forward is the responsibility of its board of directors who hire people, such as Producing Artistic Director Mark S. Hoee (2000) and Managing Director Todd Schmidt (2010) and President and CEO Michael Gennaro, former Executive Director of Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater,  in 2003.

To buy “WSS” tickets or tickets for next season, click here.


OK. Let’s get back to “WSS.” I am so looking forward to the sound of Leonard Bernstein’s music delivered through the orchestra with Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics delivered by the actors. When the musicians start playing and that live music from a large ensemble comes rolling across the audience in this 1,200-seat house … it’s a sensation I live for. No matter how good the movie version, it can’t recreate that feeling.

Although, the opening of the 1961 movie is exceptionable with its overhead shot looking straight down into the canyons of steel. Pat Kirkham, a professor in the History of Design, Decorative Arts and Culture at the Bard Graduate Center for Studies, discussed both  the movie’s opening and closing credits brilliantly. Here’s a section:

“Saul Bass and Elaine Makatura created an unusual opening sequence that accompanies Leonard Bernstein’s romantic overture. Brilliant, saturated hues slowly change color over a single delicate drawing. The image is indeterminate and abstract, until it dissolves into the tip of the Manhattan skyline and we understand what we have been gazing at all along. Saul was also responsible for directing the superb aerial photography that followed — starting high above the tall buildings and deep canyons of the city and finally zooming down in one seamless take to the teeming streets of New York City.

Watch the opening and closing sequences for the movie and learn more about their creation by clicking here.