The musical many consider the greatest in Broadway history gets a magnificent big-stage production, the kind most West Side Story lovers can only dream of, as Musical Theatre West debuts their 59th-anniversary revival of the Arthur Laurents-Leonard Bernstein-Stephen Sondheim-Jerome Robbins classic.
As any Broadway buff will tell you, there’s Broadway pre-West Side Story, and everything else since then.
Back in 1957 when West Side Story first debuted, recent Tony-winners included My Fair Lady, Damn Yankees, and The Pajama Game, fun and sunny fare compared to a musical whose leading man and leading lady didn’t have the proverbial happy ending, and whose characters lived dismal lives in the worst parts of Manhattan and hated anyone whose differences threatened their go-nowhere existences.
How must mid-20th Century Broadway audiences have felt about Bernstein’s jazz and opera inspired score, about Sondheim’s poetic lyrics, about Laurents’ Romeo and Juliet-inspired book, and above all about Robbins’ truly revolutionary choreography? How must West Side Story have rocked the world of these Eisenhower-era 1950s New Yorkers and, even more so, of the out-of-towners who make up so much of a Broadway show’s audience?
This updated R & J on the mean streets of New York City may seem tame compared to the gang warfare flashed on today’s TV screens, but its tragic tale of star-crossed lovers remains as powerful as ever in 2016, a story played out daily whether by rival gangs in America’s inner cities or by Israelis and Palestinians in the Middle East or by Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland.
Only a heart of stone could fail to be moved by the love which ignites between born-in-the-USA Tony and recent Puerto Rican émigré Maria one fateful night at a high school gymnasium—only to be extinguished just a day later on the West Side streets of Manhattan.
Joe Langworth directs MTW’s West Side Story with an attention to details that a lesser talent might overlook, with even the smallest role honed to utmost precision. Choreographer Hector Guerrero reproduces original Broadway director-choreographer Robbins’ now iconic dance moves to perfection, going to far as to integrate them into scene changes that might otherwise induce impatience. And even diehard West Side Story fans will relish seeing for the first time the “Nightmare” sequences that ends the “Somewhere” dream ballet on a stark dramatic note.
Performances are as sensational as West Side Story performances get.
As golden boy Tony and his waiflike Maria, Michael Spaziani and Ashley Marie not only dig deep (as does each and every cast member), they sing exquisitely and have palpable romantic chemistry. Anitas don’t get any more spectacular than Lauren Boyd’s spitfire-riffic stunner. As for the dynamic enemy duo of Riff and Bernardo, Tyler Matthew Burke and Cooper Howell not only prove themselves superb dancers but radiate abundant charisma and heat.
Jets Colby Hamann (Big Deal), Dylan Hoffinger (Baby John), fight captain Daniel Kermidas (A-Rab), Andrew Koslow (Gee-Tar), Jeffrey Scott Parsons (Snowboy), Tyler Scherer (Diesel), and Adam Trent (Action) stand out each and every one, with special snaps to Trent’s cauldron of rage and Hoffinger’s still salvageable youngest. Their delightfully irreverent “Gee Officer Krupke” provides much needed Act Two comic relief, and as female Jet hopeful, Kristin M. Morris tops just about every Anybodys I’ve seen.
Shark Girls Jazz Aguon (Francisca), Celeste Lanuza (Estela), Theresa Murray (Consuelo), Anyssa Navarro (Rosalia), and Tori Simeone (Francisca) add sizzle throughout, particularly in “America” and “I Feel Pretty,” and Navarro sings a gorgeous “Somewhere” from the orchestra pit.
Sharks and Jet Girls are given less to do, but Langsworth and Guerrero give them their own chances to shine throughout. Dance captain Julio Cataño-Yee (Indio), Julian Marcus DeGuzman (Chino), Jonathon Grant (Pepe), Eddie Gutierrez (Nibbles), Steven Rada (Anxious), and Benjamin Roeling (Luis), and Jeni Baker (Graziella), Brittany Bentley (Velma), Emily Dauwalder (Clarise), and Lisa Stone (Minnie) are all terrific, with special mention due DeGuzman’s spunky Chino.
Last but not least are the adults, finely delineated work by Gregory North (Lt. Shrank), Kevin F. Story (Officer Krupke), Stephen Weston (Glad Hand), and Paul E. Zegler (Doc).
If this seems like a bigger-than-usual cast, you’re absolutely right—about a dozen more than most West Side Stories, and the pit orchestra under the assured baton of David Lamoureux is equally spectacularly beefed up—thirty musicians in all (provided by Los Angeles Musicians Collective), adding up to the grandest sound I’ve heard in an MTW production.
Sets (provided by The Music Theatre and Theatre Company) are simple, clean-cut, and effective, and Jean-Yves Tessier has lit them with accustomed flair. Costumes (designed by Karen St. Pierre and provided by The Theatre Company) are as fine as you’d see on any Broadway stage. Add to this Audio Production Geeks, LLC’s crystal clear sound design, Andrew Flack’s pitch-perfect properties, and Anthony Gagliardi’s character-specific wigs and you’ve got one uniformly Grade-A production design.
Steven Pryby is stage manager and Mary Rittenhour is assistant stage manager. Kevin Clowes is technical director.
Musical Theatre West’s monumental revival looks to be one of MTW’s biggest hits ever. And deservedly so. West Side Stories don’t get any better than this one.
Musical Theatre West, Richard and Karen Carpenter Performing Arts Center, 6200 Atherton St., Long Beach.
February 13, 2106
Photos: Caught In The Moment Photography