West Side Story | 02.15.12

 

play west-side_75The entire supporting cast, too numerous to mention, bring considerable amounts of energy and professionalism to their roles, which helps to make this is a very solid and successful production.

 

play west-side_500

There have been any number of renowned re-imaginings of Shakespeare, but, easily one of the finest to have been conceived is the musical adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story. One thing that makes it so special is the way Leonard Bernstein’s dramatic orchestral score meshes so perfectly with Stephen Sondheim’s lyrical contributions, and how Arthur Laurent’s clever book replaces the feuding families of the original work for rival gangs of different races. And, there’s no denying the ground-breaking choreography and direction that Jerome Robbins brought to the table. The combination of acrobatics, ballet, and modern dance requires exceptional athleticism. Thankfully, the current production playing the Fox Theatre is an exciting and thoroughly entertaining version that’s brought to life by an exuberant and talented cast.

Two gangs, differentiated by their cultural and ethnic identities, clash in a borough ofNew York City. Tony, a reluctant member of the Caucasian outfit, the Jets, is drawn into a deadly rumble between these factions at the very same time that he falls in love with a Puerto Rican girl named Maria. Of course, she also happens to be the sister of Bernardo, the rival leader of the Sharks, who are the very group the Jets are opposing. Since this is a tragedy, you know that true love won’t win out in the end, but it’s a moving and compelling tale all the same.

Evy Ortiz is very appealing as Maria, the naïve young girl fromSan Juanwho finds true love at her first dance when she catches a glimpse of Tony. Ortiz has the right kind of voice for this material, with. her vocals positively soaring in tandem with Ross Lekites (Tony) during the romantic strains of the ever-popular tunes “Tonight” and “Somewhere.” Lekites is up to the task as the well meaning but hopelessly doomed Tony, and his voice blends nicely with Ortiz on their duets. He positively shines on his own during “Maria” and “Something’s Coming.”

German Santiago adroitly handles the role of Bernardo, wearing his pride on his sleeve, right next to the ever-present chip on his shoulder. He’s paired up with the more sympathetic Michelle Aravena as Anita. She really puts a charge into the sassy and sarcastic ode to living in theUnited States, “America,” and brings genuine emotion to the role. Drew Foster is quite good as Riff, the leader of the Jets, who life takes a tragic turn when he accidentally lands on Bernardo’s brandished switchblade. John O’Creagh makes Doc a pitiable figure of reason who is frustrated by his own inability to break through to these kids. Mike Boland brings out the bigot in Lt. Schrank and Wally Dunn backs him up with his own peculiar view of the law as Officer Krupke.

The entire supporting cast, too numerous to mention, bring considerable amounts of energy and professionalism to their roles, which helps to make this is a very solid and successful production.

David Saint does a fine job directing the touring company, obviously picking up where the recent work of Arthur Laurents on Broadway left off, and the inclusion of bits of Spanish, which are liberally sprinkled throughout, adds an air of authenticity to the proceedings. Choreographer Joey McKneely faithfully recreates the original dance moves, and proves that they’re still as eye-popping today as they were when they were debuted. The music direction of James O’Neill is superb and the orchestra sounds particularly dynamic. James Youman’s scenic design is impeccably constructed to recreate the mean streets of the city, and provides multiple levels for the actors to play off of, which is an absolute necessity for the famous balcony scene. David C. Woolard’s costumes capture the period without being overly corny or clichéd, and Howell Brinkley’s moody lighting design creates the proper atmosphere for this tragedy. | Chris Gibson

This exciting and engaging presentation of West Side Story continues through February 26, 2012, at the Fox Theatre. Don’t miss out on an opportunity to see this classic performed the way it ought to be.

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