West Side Story WBTPublished: Monday, April 20, 2015 By: Adam Cohen Source: That's Entertaining Or Not
It is incredibly difficult to a make a production of “West Side Story” your own. The legendary show features a deft score by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and a now dusty book by Arthur Laurents based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. What makes the production at the stalwart dinner theater Westchester Broadway Theater is Barry McNabb’s choreography.
This is a production that soars through dances and is visually arresting. McNabb creates dynamic pictures through his athletic ballet moves, which evoke rape, torment, romance, and love. The young cast moves gracefully and powers the story to another dimension.
Set in Hells Kitchen in the waning summer of 1957 the neighborhood is patrolled less by Officer Krupke (Mike Boland) and Schrank (Ed Romanoff) than by the rival gangs of The Jets and Sharks. Owning and controlling turf is important to both groups. The Sharks are Puerto Rican who are fighting for their piece of the American dream while the Jets – sons of immigrants take the newcomers for granted. Modern day social workers would advocate for increased schooling or jobs to keep these kids off the streets. Alas, toughened up by pride, these boys defend that which they know.
There’s artful Tony (Zach Trimmer) yearning for something more while working in Doc’s and painting a sign. Off the streets and largely retired from gang life, Tony is compelled to help his friends by Riff (Adam Soniak) who’s itching for a fight to prove his leadership and supremacy over Berndardo (Brandon Contreras) and his Sharks.
Squaring off at a high school dance with a comic turn by Ed Romanoff as the ineffective principal, the boys agree to rumble. Tony meets Maria (the beautiful Carly Evans) and romance becomes more important than turf. McNabb’s choreography nice turns from athletic and macho in the early scenes to awkward, teen hormonal in the school dance. His cast rewards the audience with individualized performances that create both character, motivation, and propel the story forward. You really believe these Sharks and Jets love their territory, one another, and fear for being pushed around and out.
The production is also well sung particularly in group numbers like “Gee, Officer Krupke”, “I Feel Pretty” and “Tonight.” Trimmer and Evans craftily evoke first love and tragic romance. Allison Thomas Lee’s Anita tormented by Bernardo’s death turns on Maria after being overwhelmed by the Jets at Doc’s – she’s a tremendous actress whose actions bring on the tragic conclusion.
As well danced as the production is with McNabb’s choreography beautifully and deftly syncopated with Bernstein’s score. Laurent’s book feels dated and cheesy. One wishes for a fuller sounding orchestra to match the robust dynamism that dances before you.
The production dances through July 5th. Jet on up to Elmsford, have the chicken marsala and enjoy a robust, taut production of “West Side Story.”