WEST SIDE STORY by Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, Arthur Laurents at Westchester Broadway Theatre

Published: Friday, May 8, 2015 By: Bruce Apar Source: BRUCE The Blog

 

There are historic works that transformed the Broadway musical. Jerome Kern’s “Showboat” gave us Edna Ferber’s intelligent storyline that created a more meaningful context for the songs. Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma” gave us the balletic beauty of high-flying choreography.

Cameron Mackintosh’s and Andrew Lloyd Weber’s “Phantom of the Opera” gave us theme park spectacle imported from England. Then there’s “West Side Story,” which stands alone and, for this Broadway buff, atop all the rest. There never had been anything like it before its 1957 debut, and it’s unlikely there ever will be anything comparable.

It both set and broke its own mold in a singularly inspired stroke of genius. The convention-defying choreography and direction by Jerome Robbins not only made adolescent street gangs dancing on stage feel electrifying but, even more improbably, believable.

The storyline, by Arthur Laurents, is as old as Shakespeare, based on the familiar familial disdain between Romeo’s Montagues (read: Tony of Jets) and Juliet’s Capulets (read: Maria of Sharks).

The wide open, three-sided proscenium stage of Westchester Broadway Theatre is a distinct asset for this production. It offers multiple angles of action for the street scenes, where there is much milling about, as when the Rumble closes Act I, or for the luminously lit “Dance at the Gym.”

The expanse of the setting lends added poignance when Tony (robust-voiced Zach Timmer) and Maria (heavenly-sounding Carly Evans) sing the final notes of “Tonight” to each other from opposite ends of the stage.

Led by the Riff of Adam Soniak and the Bernardo of Brandon Contreras, the ensemble cast portraying Jets and Sharks sustain  the necessary energy that West Side Story demands of its interpreters. Also worthy of singling out is Xavier Reyes as Maria’s boyfriend Chino.

 

The Bernstein-Sondheim score arguably is the richest and most enduring in Broadway annals. It also is, musically, and having nothing at all to do with ethnicity, the most soulful.

Every song is iconic, from the clever playfulness of “America” and