It takes brilliance and balls to pull off the reinvention of a musical theater classic, particularly one as renowned for its iconic choreography as for its book, music, and lyrics, but this is precisely what director Richard Israel and choreographer John Todd have accomplished in the brilliant, ballsy West Side Story they have mounted for The La Mirada Theatre and McCoy Rigby Entertainment.

As any musical theater aficionado can tell you, Leonard Bernstein’s jazz-and-opera-based score, Stephen Sondheim’s poetic lyrics, Arthur Laurents’ Romeo and Juliet-inspired book, and above all Jerome Robbins’ groudbreaking choreography revolutionized Broadway when West Side Story premiered some sixty year ago.

Even today, only a heart of stone could fail to be moved by the love that 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.

And only the most curmudgeonly purist could object to the multitude of ways that director Israel and choreographer Todd, working in tandem with scenic designer Stephen Gifford’s inspired, fire-escape-evoking multilevel set, have taken the Robbins original as point of departure and then let loose their prodigious powers of imagination and reinvention.

From its opening tableau of Jets descending tenement staircases to launch into their urban street ballet, it’s clear that while Todd’s dances evoke Robbins (you can’t do the West Side Story without finger snaps, for example), the moves are Todd’s own, tempered with a realism that director and choreographer carry on throughout, and never more so than in “The Rumble,” where choreography and fight choreography blend seamlessly into the most gut-punchingly edge-of-your-seat Act One finale West Side Story may ever have had.

Tony and Maria’s first glimpse of each other offers a heart-stopping break from the electrifying mambo moves of  “The Dance At The Gym,” a sequence that fills the stage with so much color and energy and sheer number of gorgeously-garbed bodies that Tony’s subsequent “Maria,” sung on an absolutely bare stage, soars as perhaps never before.

Later, when the besotted couple duet “Tonight,” the fire-escape landing upon which they stand spins round with the dizziness of first love as a night sky lights up with stars that extend all the way out into the audience.

Integrating Jet girls into “Cool” adds an extra jolt of excitement to the Act One showstopper, director Israel uses every corner of Gifford’s set for an especially visually stunning “Tonight (Quintet),” and don’t get me started on the sheer gorgeousness of the “Somewhere” ballet and the jolt of stark realism with which it ends, or a “Taunting” that shocks and devastates and provides Anita with ample motivation for betraying a promise made.

Of course none of this would work without performers to match Israel and Todd in brilliance and balls and here too La Mirada/McCoy Rigby scores an A+.

Ashley Marie was already an exquisite Maria when she played the role a year ago in Long Beach. At La Mirada, she steals the show with an irresistible combination of innocence and femininity, an exquisite soprano, and gut-wrenching rage, and since her leading man is La Mirada favorite Eddie Egan, nailing Tony’s purity and sincerity and heart with a tenor that takes flight, who could ask for more?

Marlene Martinez is everything a West Side Story lover could possibly want a fiery, fabulous fury of an Anita to be, Michael Starr once again proves himself one of our exciting young triple-threats as Riff, and Armando Yearwood, Jr.’s Bernardo is sexy and compelling as all get-out.

Jet Boys Jean-Luc Cavnar-Lewandowski, Max Chucker, Jake DuPree, Chris Meissner, Mark Shunkey, Justin Michael Wilcox, and Adam Ziv are as delightful in “Gee, Officer Krupke” as they are ravaging in “Taunting” and pigtailed Danielle Kay is a terrific Jet Boy wannabe Anybodys.

Shark girls Autumn Crockett Cooper, Natalie Iscovich, April Josephine, and Clarice Ordaz add fuego y salsa to Martinez’s “America” and Marie’s “I Feel Pretty.”

Jet Girls Sophia Borrelli, Maggie Darago, Emily Frazier, Bailey Day Sonner, Alyssa Weldon are equally red-hot as are Shark Boys Adrian Arrieta, Gabriel Navarro, Dino Nicandro, Nich O’Neil, Steven Rada, and dance captain Joshua Rivera, with special snaps to Nicandros’s heartbreaking Chino.

That each and every one of the above proves himself or herself a quintessential triple threat bears repeating.

Last but not least, Lance Galgon, Eric Gratton, Joe Hart, and Time Winters adeptly avoid cardboard stereotypes in a quartet of non-singing/dancing roles.

Musical director Brent Crayon conducts West Side Story’s Broadway-caliber orchestra made even more glorious by Julie Ferrin’s powerhouse sound design.

Steven Young’s vibrant lighting design enhances Gifford’s set and Thomas G. Marquez’s stunning costumes, Katie McCoy’s expert hair, wigs, and makeup, and Terry Hanrahan’s hand-picked props every step of the way, with special snaps for the stark film noir shadows of the suddenly claustrophobic “The Rumble.”

John W. Calder, III is production stage manager and Lisa Palmire is assistant stage manager. Casting is by Julia Flores. Michael Roman is technical director.

Ballsy and brilliant and breathtaking in equal measure, La Mirada Theatre and McCoy Rigby Entertainment’s West Side Story more than justifies its catchphrase “The Most Acclaimed Musical Of All Time.” You won’t see a more sensational locally-produced musical this year.

follow on twitter small

La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Boulevard, La Mirada. www.lamiradatheatre.com

–Steven Stanley
April 22, 2017
Photos: Jason Niedle


Tags: , , , , , ,

Comments are closed.