Westchester Broadway Theatre Revives 'West Side Story'

Published: Thursday, April 23, 2015 By: Ed Burroughs Source: Journal News

The saddest scene in the very good revival of "West Side Story" at Westchester Broadway Theatre is its loveliest.

A day after meeting and instantly falling in love, Tony and Maria are brought low by tragedy. As a way to climb back, they dream of some place with only joy, where everyone gets along – the "Somewhere" ballet. The large cast of 19, all dressed in white, glide around the two lovers in total contrast to what we know is their real world where poor sons of European immigrants and just as poor newly arrived Puerto Ricans battle senselessly over turf on Manhattan's west side in the 1950s.

The thread of hating those who are different runs strong in director/choreographer Barry McNabb's staging. A sharp sting is felt when police captain Schrank, not the model of diplomacy himself, shouts in frustration at the boys who make up the Jets, "You make this world lousy."

But it hurts even more when Action, one of the Jets, screams back, "That was the way we found it!"

This harsh atmosphere underscores the great achievement of original Broadway director/choreographer Jerome Robbins in combining sensational dance numbers, soaring ballads (by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim) with social commentary to create a modern retelling of "Romeo and Juliet" in 1957.

The impact is felt most in the performance of Carly Evans as Maria.

First appearing as a tentative girl, eager but unsure of what is to come, Evans physically conveys Maria's transformation to independent strength. That coming change becomes clear when she turns the breezy "I Feel Pretty" into a statement of confidence. Her singing is wonderful to hear.

As lovestruck Tony, Zach Trimmer is her equal in voice with stirring performances of "Something's Coming" and "Tonight." They make a perfect and moving couple in "One Hand, One Heart."

The cast does a fine job in the several ensemble dance numbers that choreographer McNabb has made physical and fluid.

The bar is set high with the gymnastic opening balletic rumble and the "Jet Song."

The highlight dance number is a raucous, competitive "America."

In somewhat of a letdown, the musical's usual showstopper -- the "Dance at the Gym," when Tony and Maria first set eyes on each other -- is muddled, providing little contrast between the Jets and the Sharks. The distinction is mostly dependent on Andrew Gmoser's lighting design which is more bold than nuanced.

In supporting roles, Allison Thomas Lee as Anita and Anthony Johnson as Action stand out.

Early on, Lee makes Anita such a fireball of life that her later sung lecture to Maria to stick to her own kind, "A Boy Like That," and the attack on her by the Jets at Doc's drug store hurt to the core.

Johnson makes Action the toughest of the Jets and yet can turn "Gee, Officer Krupke" into giddy vaudeville in the tragic second act.

"West Side Story" was last on the Westchester Broadway Theatre stage in 1998. This production is a welcome return of a musical classic.