Nancy Sasso Janis
Westchester Broadway Theatre has been trying to bring 'West Side Story' back to their stage since its last production in 1998. The musical that was inspired by Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, it has been called "possibly the greatest musical ever created" by Jerome Robbins with amazing music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by a 27 year old Stephen Sondheim. I never get tired of watching the 1961 film version of this tale of two star-crossed lovers from different worlds in order to enjoy the outstanding choreography and musical score. The WBT production was the first time I have seen a non-student version of the show and I was immediately wrapped up in the total experience that makes 'West Side Story' a treasure of the musical theatre genre.
Carly Evans & Zach Trimmer as Maria & Tony in 'West Side Story' at WBT Photo By John Vecchiolla
Did you know that Robbins original premise for the show in 1950 involved a young, Italian, Catholic boy whose gang was embroiled in a fierce rivalry with a group of Jewish kids and was to be called "East Side Story?" I did not. Five years later when the project was reactivated, the decision was made to move the action to the upper west side neighborhood of San Juan Hill and the Jewish gang became Puerto Rican "Sharks" versus the Polish-American "Jets."
Director/choreographer Barry McNabb writes "It is the musical where story-telling and dance are the most integrated ever and that physical manifestation makes for a very visceral audience experience." The theme is dark with the focus on social problems and the ending is heart wrenching, but I would agree that the extended dance scenes set to the glorious music ("One Hand, One Heart," "America," and "Tonight" for sure) make it all worthwhile.
This production is up the usual WBT standards with beautiful costumes by Derek Lockwood and his assistant Roberto Silva and wig/hair designed by Gerald Kelly. The company danced the "Somewhere Ballet" in all white and it was all quite beautiful. The fine set by Steven Loftus employed a thin elevator along the front of the stage that was used well. The cast performed the excellent choreography based on the style of the period and Robbin's signature steps. Lighting designed by Andrew Gmoser was stunning and especially effective for the rumble. The chef added to the evening's menu pernil, arroz con gandules y tostones and a yummy roasted turkey breast.
The ensemble was strong in every way, although a few looked a little mature to be gang members. Mike Boland was both Doc and Officer Krupke and Ed Romanoff played both Schrank and a great Glad Hand. Xavier Reyes was young Chino and Brandon Contreras played a commanding Bernardo. Maggie McGrath was the frenetic Anybody's and Adam Soniak gave a strong performance as Riff.
Zach Trimmer gave a heartfelt performance and sang very well as Tony. Allison Thomas Lee brought strong acting to the role of Anita. As the lovely Maria, Carly Evans was sublime. This young actress played the role at Ogunquit Playhouse last fall and her singing voice was flawless. I will always remember her performance of this iconic character.
'West Side Story' runs at the WBT, celebrating 40 years of Broadway Musicals and fine dining, through July 5, 2015.