Wednesday, September 20, 2006

West Side Story

Every chorus of male dancers should have Robert Coverdell at the head of the line. Coverdell, who plays Riff in “West Side Story,” the first production of the Davis Musical Theater Company’s 22nd season, was born to dance. He has a tall lanky body that moves with a fluid motion and he makes everybody look good (and some of those guys behind him were definitely not born to dance, but give it the ol’ college try).

“West Side Story,” directed by Steve Isaacson (who is also credited with musical direction) and choreographed by Dian Hoel is a continuous roller coasters of highs and lows. Just when the energy lags and someone can’t quite get the pitch right, along comes a number like “Officer Krupke,” the outstanding number from this production, where everybody – Henry Holloway, Andy Hyum, Ryan Warren, Alex Poe, and Edward Nelson – is right on the money ... and Nelson, as Big Deal, does amazing leaps and somersaults. This number has the sizzle that should be found in all the dance numbers, and sadly is not.

The show is a little difficult to review, with no musical numbers listed in the program (and hence no way to identify minor characters singing solos), and no biographies for the actors, but it appears that there are a lot of new names to the company in the cast..

“West Side Story,”is the classic musical with book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, which debuted on Broadway in 1957 and set a musical style which moved musical theater in a whole new direction.

It is, of course, the Romeo and Juliet story, modernized and set on the mean streets of New York. Teri Kanefield is credited as “Scenic Artist,” and I’m not sure if that means she was responsible for the look of the entire show, but the opening bare stage was nicely designed with a brick wall at the back, and projected lights to hint at the fire escapes of tenement buildings. The upper level apartment balcony for Maria’s bedroom was perfect.

I wondered how it was going to go when I saw that there were only four people in the orchestra (Jonathan Rothman on piano, Isaacson on drums, Chris Weisker on oboe and Vicki Davis on bass), but somehow the orchestral arrangement was so well done that you almost didn’t miss the full orchestra for which Leonard Bernstein wrote the score.

The story revolves around the running feud between the Sharks (Puerto Ricans) and the Jets (the native born Americans). Some of the material (particularly the barely censored language, such as “Gee, Officer Krupke--krup you” and “when the spit hits the fan”) seems a bit dated, but the hatred between gangs is, sadly, even more relevant today.

Colby Salmon in the role of Tony obviously has a very good voice and good stage presence, but had breath and pacing problems in his opening number. He appeared to grow in confidence as the evening progressed. He is a strong actor and worked well with Chelsea Baldree, as Maria.

Baldree, too, could use a bit more oomph when singing in her lower register but was a sensitive Maria, the innocent young girl newly arrived from Puerto Rico to marry her brother’s friend Chino (Nick Peters). Over the course of two hours, she learns how to hate, and Baldree makes the transition from innocent girl to angry girl nicely.

Bernardo, the head of the Sharks, is played by Davis Ott who, like Coverdell, presents a wonderful dancing figure and very believably portrays the leader of a Latino gang.

Amanda Morish is outstanding as Anita, Bernardo’s girlfriend who seems to spend most of the first act doing deep backbends as Bernardo continually sweeps her off her feet. She has fun with “America,” comparing the positives about this country with the negatives in Puerto Rico, and she is also able to bring out the rage of a woman who has just lost the love of her life in “A Boy Like That.”

Kayla Sheehan has the minor role of Rosalia, who argues with Anita about the pros and cons of Puerto Rico vs. the United States. She gives a solid performance throughout the production.

This is a big show for a small company and DMTC handles it adequately, though not outstandingly. I suspect that as opening night jitters fade with the principals, we will see more of the polished performances which are hinted at here, and as the entire cast settles into the run, there will be more precision to the dance numbers. All the elements are there and with a bit more energy this could be a good production.

No comments: