Arts Collective Theatre (ACT) is a Windsor theatre company known for its highly anticipated musical stagings at the Capitol Theatre every year. The anticipation has been building for the groups triumphant return to the post-COVID stage with one of its most ambitious and meaningful shows in its eight-year existence – a restaging of the show that started it all – West Side Story.
Brimming with new excitement from a recently released Hollywood blockbuster, the ACT team will add more staging and more colour than ever before.
The show runs from Oct. 14 to 23 at the Capitol Theatre in Windsor.
ACT’s president and West Side Story director Chris Rabideau tells 519 Magazine what makes this the perfect time to revamp this classic musical.
Why did you choose West Side Story for your return to the big stage?
West Side Story was the perfect choice. It’s where we began eight years ago when we formed ACT. And it was the perfect show to bring us back again for ACT II.
Is this one of the shows you had planned pre-pandemic?
The idea for this came about during the pandemic when I was thinking of what show would be great for us to begin again with – it became the obvious choice. First, this show is my favourite show. Second, I thought it would be wonderful to bring a show where people in high school and yet people who are retired would love the show. It’s universal.
2021 saw the story return to the big screen by Steven Spielberg. Has this film played a part in the greater interest for audiences?
I think the film really helped to generate new interest with younger audiences. The director did a great job of making the story feel new again. Spielberg was really able to enhance and bring new life to the already amazing score and script.
Did you enjoy the new version of the film?
Oh, I loved the new film adaptation. I think they were able to even bring more diversity to the to the show. That was authentic. I thought it was cinematic and the cinematography was gorgeous. It’s commented my already great love Adair with this show. It did inspire me to direct the trailer for the play. If you get a chance check it out on our page. You can see our jets and Sharks featured.
Which version does the ACT adaption draw from the most, the original Broadway, the original movie or the new movie?
I think this version of West Side Story brings a little bit of everything. I have echoes of the original, I have new ideas brought to life by the new movie and of course we are left with a beautiful script that’s works so well.
And Yes … we have made it our own.
What do you think makes this story so riveting?
What makes the story so riveting is it passion – Everyone is fighting for something. Everyone has a dream that never fully reaches its full potential. It reminds us that the American dream is built on nothing more than an idea captured only by some.
For you, how does West Side Story compare to its influence – Romeo and Juliet?
I think part of the appeal is that it’s a story is that it’s built on a plot that was made successful by Shakespeare. It’s a story we can relate too. It’s always funny because I know how the show ends and every time, I’m almost shocked when I see the ending scene like I didn’t know what was going to happen. I love that this show makes us fight for the characters we want people to win. That’s why the end is such a gut punch.
Do you consider yourself a Jet or Shark, and why?
I see myself in a little bit of both jets and sharks. I think I will choose the Sharks – in one sense that my passion whether it be for a theatre or life runs through my veins just like the sharks. I also understand what it’s like to Not be excepted and live life as a minority. I have had to walk inside the lines of diversity. Perhaps I’ve always felt like the underdog and so perhaps that’s why I see myself in both. As a director, I’m fighting for everyone.
What moment in the show is your absolutely favourite?
There’re so many great moments in the show. My favourite It’s probably the song “Gee Officer Krupke.” The amount of energy that will come out of that scene from these boys it’s going to be jaw dropping. I also love the “taunting scene” and the “rumble” because it’s riveting. For fun I would say “America” because it brings me joy.
ACT is known for taking big productions and making them unique from the rest. What can we expect ACT will bring to this one to make it unique?
ACT prides itself on how we take risks and offer unique ways of bringing a show to life. When ACT starts a show, we build from the ground up. I usually get a feeling from the music it has to move me. West Side Story moves me. When I started this process, I sat the team down and read them over a 10-page thesis about why we were doing the show.
One of the highlights was I was introducing a concept called the “universe of light”. The show is very dark but I want to illuminate Maria and Tony’s love with light …so you’ll have to come see the show and understand what I mean by that. When you see the universe of light in the show. You will see how love (light) can shine in the dark spaces.
What do you think audiences will take away from the show?
I think they are going to be impressed by the acting and dancing. We have a lot of new people who have never been on stage before in lead roles. It’s a running joke now that I will find leads in the strangest places. I will ask them if they sing or if they’ve ever acted and I can’t explain it but I just get a feeling. Next thing you know they’re on stage and they are the lead of a major production. Yes – that is no different for this production and yes you will find hidden talent that has never been awakened until now. I won’t lie it’s a lot of work but the payoff is tremendous. I also think the dancing in the show is Phenomenal. Early last spring I called Tiffany Chan who is the artistic director of Windsor dance experience. Moya told me it’s a longshot – she’s so busy and she has her own company she’s running but, in my heart, I knew I wanted somebody who understood Dance for Theatre.
This is a dance show.
And now here we are and I think she’s done some great pieces in the show. These are non-dancers dancing epic choreography. I have also taken many liberties with a choreography and instructed my team to go to new places with these songs. For example, “somewhere” is going to be completely contemporary.
Tell me about your cast choices
As I said before we have casted a lot of new people to stage. Tony who is played by Gianluca Leraci And one of our Anitas played by Bella Mancina have not touched the stage since the first year of high school. Fun fact… I taught Bella drama online last year where I am a professor at the faculty of education. I had over 250 students … And she was quit and never came on camera. I never even knew until she told me just weeks ago that she was in my class. It’s funny how things work out.
The character of Chino played by Peter Corio has never touched theatre. I got an email from him one day out of the blue last spring interested in our social justice works that ACT produces every year. He wanted to know more. So, he came to our last senior show last winter and now of course he’s playing the role of Chino. it’s his first show of all time. Juan Pablo Cano who is playing Pepe I found when I was volunteering at a bingo hall. He is from Columbia and brings the Spanish passion to life. He moved here when he was young. He told me I don’t know if I can be onstage – now he is a featured role.
We also have some staples to act family like Kyle Cloutier who is playing an explosive ACTION. You may remember him from playing the lead in Hair. Jim Walls who has been in several community productions with many theatres company’s will be playing Doc.
ACT’s sets are always very visual. Will this be no different?
Will run 20 feet up in the air. We’ve used every single fly we can use in the theatre that’s available to us. This is the biggest set that act has ever done. I designed the set to look minimalistic and yet be large and fill the space when it needs it. I like the theme of tearing down America. You may see a hole in walls as if a Crain has been knocking down the neighbour hood. I will be exposing everything.
There will be no back Cye to hide the empty walls of the space – I wanted the bare theater walls surrounding the stage. I want to show the transition after World War II of rebuilding America and yet also showing the destruction of society. You will see lots of Americana. Flags and even underwear. When ACT goes big, we go big! I told my team if we are coming back from a pandemic everything had to be top tier. We have spared no expense. Vision is very important to us. It’s all starts with an idea – and this was one was “Light”
Tell us a bit about the upcoming 2023 season
Next year will be called “life in colour” It’s important that next year we celebrate comedy colour and a heightened reality. And yes, even in this shows businesses I somehow have come up with a new vision, thesis and a new direction for next year. I’ve always enjoyed picking old shows and revamping them and of course next year we chose “Guys and Dolls” for or major musical and yes it will be revamped for the stage. I think that’s what people have come to expect from an ACT show – all the bells and whistles and yet something different that no one else is doing. I had a team member say to me the other day “the reason why I do ACT shows is because you’re not going to see another show like it in Windsor” – people come to us because you know you’re about to witness something unique and exciting. Please look at our website to look at our next season announcement all the shows are listed there.
The show runs from Oct. 14 to 23 at the Capitol Theatre in Windsor.
Tickets are $35 for adults, $30 for seniors and students and $20 for youths available at actwindsor.ca.