Wednesday, August 05, 2015

West Side Story

The Jets perform one of their many exuberant dance numbers for “West Side Story,”
produced by Music Circus at the Wells Fargo Pavilion through Sunday, Aug. 9.
Charr Crail/Courtesy photo

 There was a lot of testosterone bouncing off of the Music Circus stage during the opening number as “West Side Story,” directed by Bob Richard opened this week.

The Tony Award-winning musical — with book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim — may be one of the most energetic musicals around these days. With choreography by Diane Laurenson, based partly on the original choreography by Jerome Robbins, this taxes the dancers to the limit, and the Music Circus cast is equal to the task.

The men flew through the air over and over and over again, climbed structures, rolled on the ground, popped back up and then flew through the air again. The ladies stomped, kicked their heels in the air and got spun around by the guys.

Without even thinking about acting or singing, the show is a hit on dancing alone.

This is, of course, a modern-day Romeo and Juliet story, modernized and set on the streets of New York. It revolves around the running feud between the Sharks (immigrant Puerto Ricans) and the Jets (native New Yorkers). Some of the material (particularly the barely censored language, such as “Gee, Officer Krupke — krup you”) seems a bit dated, but the hatred between gangs is, sadly, even more relevant today.

There is a wonderful cast. Justin Matthew Sargent is a handsome Tony, with a powerful voice that has a smoothness of butter as he croons songs like “Maria” and “Something’s Coming.” Tony is determined to quit the Jets and find a normal job, and the fact that he has fallen instantly in love with a beautiful Puerto Rican girl strengthens that resolve.

Maria is played by Carolann M. Sanita. She has a glorious voice, and beautifully portrays the innocent excitement of a young girl falling in love for the first time. It is never more evident than in her giddy “I Feel Pretty,” as she prepares for her date with Tony, followed by the anguish of a young woman who feels her life crashing in around her.

German Alexander was the last Bernardo that Arthur Laurents cast, and so originated the role on the first national revival tour. He has a bravado and a swagger that work for his character and he is definitely the guy in charge.

Desiree Davar is a fiery Anita, Bernardo’s girlfriend. Her duet with Maria (“A Boy Like That”) was outstanding, as she struggles to balance her grief at Bernardo’s death, her anger at Maria for being in love with his killer, and her love for Maria, understanding the depth of the girl’s feelings for Tony.

Naomi Morgan is Rosalia, living in America, but still longing for her native Puerto Rico. Her duet with Anita (“America”) and the spirited dance of the women singing about the joys of living in their new country, compared with the problems of the country they left behind, was outstanding.

Shane Rhoades, reprising his 2005 role, is Tony’s best friend, Riff. Riff is the leader of the Jets and is passionate about wiping out the “P.R.s,” as they call the Puerto Ricans, always itching for a fight with a hair-trigger temper.

Rich Hebert is Lt. Schrank, with a deep hatred of the Puerto Ricans. And though he doesn’t much like the Jets either, he’s willing to give them a pass as long as they don’t kill anybody. He’s backed by David Pierini (familiar to B Street Theatre audiences) as Officer Krupke.

Gary Lee Reed is Doc, the owner of the drug store that’s the Jets’ hangout. His anguish and anger following the deaths resulting from the “rumble” came from the depth of his soul.

Maria Briggs is “Anybody’s,” a diminutive tomboy who desperately wants to be a Jet and to prove she’s every bit as good as any of the guys. Her rumpled clothes and unkempt blond hair are in stark contrast to just about everyone else in the cast.

Scenic designers Scott Klier and Jamie Kumpf do a wonderful job creating the back streets of New York on a set in the round, with stairs that go up into the lights and set pieces that drop down from the ceiling to create other indoor scenes. The scene under the freeway — aided by lighting by David Neville and sound by Joe Caruso Jr. and Robert Sereno — is particularly effective.

“West Side Story” is classic American theater, and this Music Circus production does not fail to delight. Opening night seemed to have a full house, so tickets may be difficult to get, but it’s definitely worth your while to try.

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