Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
West Side Story
Also see Bill's review of The Burnt Part Boys
Each season, St. Petersburg Opera includes one production that is more musical theater than opera. This year they present West Side Story by Leonard Bernstein, music, Stephen Sondheim, lyrics, and Arthur Laurents, book, with concept and original choreography by Jerome Robbins. West Side Story will figure on any musical theater maven's list of greatest musicals ever writtenat the top of many. It is not easy to do well, requiring fine singers, outstanding dancers and good acting. St. Petersburg Opera's production delivers the singing and dancing, the book scenes being the weakest part. Some scenes, such as the war council scene in act one pack a wallop, others such as the dialogue before "America" fall a little flat. Conductor/Executive Director Mark Sforzini delivers the best conducted West Side Story I have ever heard, in person or on records. The jazzy elements are tight and rhythmically propulsive and then when it is time for "One Hand, One Heart" it has incredible romantic sweep. I also like his decision to open with the "Overture" written in 1957 but not used during the Broadway run, even though Leonard Bernstein did not like it (I knew him personally; he was a mentor to me earlier in my life). The 21 pieces in the orchestra deliver a performance that sounds like 30.
The cast is led by Gilad Paz as Tony, not ideal physically but singing wonderfully and acting well in late act two. Stefanie Izzo as Maria is ideal in every way, with a beautiful light soprano, fine acting and actually looking like she might be 17 or 18. Important supporting roles are well done, including Kaitlyn Costello as Anita, Brett Thiele as Riff, and Dominic Reatini as Bernardo. The entire cast does an excellent job of reproducing much of the Jerome Robbins choreography as adapted by Cheryl Lee. Some cast members are stronger dancers than others, but in the big numbers the ensemble is electric. Thirty-five cast members are listed in the program, a number that only a few Broadway productions could sustain.
Lovers of the classic musicals, do not miss this excellent production of West Side Storyit is highly unlikely that local audiences will get a chance to see a better one in the near future.
St. Petersburg Opera presents West Side Story through July 6, 2014, at the Palladium Theater, 253 Fifth Ave. N., St. Petersburg, FL. For more information see www.stpeteopera.org.
Musical Direction: Mark Sforzini