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New Jersey by Bob Rendell

West Side Story Arrives at NJPAC in Fine Fettle

Also see Bob's review of Trad

West Side Story
Gizel Jimenez, Kathryn Lin Terza,
Evy Ortiz and Lori Ann Ferreri

With thanks to its director David Saint, the artistic director of the George Street Playhouse who was associate director to the late Arthur Laurents on the 2009 Broadway production of West Side Story, the current touring edition has arrived at NJPAC in crackling good shape. The 2009 adjustments which were made to the script and the tone of the performance have created a more realistic, sustained dramatic arc for the second act. The freshness, energy and accuracy of the performances, vocals and dancing are currently at a high level, and West Side Story is now in livelier, more entertaining shape than it was when seen during the last weeks of its Broadway run.

While the basics of the classic Jerome Robbins-Leonard Bernstein-Stephen Sondheim-Arthur Laurents musical are intact, Laurents has made innumerable alterations in the dialogue and attitudes of the youthful gang members and their girlfriends in order to make them and the musical that they inhabit more realistic and sexually explicit. This makes this updated Romeo and Juliet more accessible to younger audiences, provides a bit of a jolt for more seasoned West Side Story viewers, and removes most of those moments of risibility resulting from the puritanical constraints of mid-twentieth century America placed upon our entertainments. These changes are more fundamental than the much commented upon translation (particularly lovely for the lyric of "I Feel Pretty") into Spanish of some of the lyrics and dialogue by Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Evy Ortiz is a particularly radiant and engaging Maria with a strong coloratura soprano. Her singing thrillingly blends a youthful exuberant sound with smooth operatic notes. Ross Lekites' Tony is solidly sung and acted, and his chemistry with Ortiz ratchets up our involvement with them. Michelle Aravena shines in each of the elements that combine to make Anita one of the richest roles in the American musical theatre. Sexy and funny, Aravena sings and dances up a storm in "America" and, ultimately, delivers a powerfully believable and heartbreakingly nuanced interpretation of Anita's emotional evolutional in the scene in which she seeks to deliver a message to Tony in Doc's shop.

Joey McKneely has done solidly professional work in recreating and adapting Jerome Robbins' classic choreography for his strong, talented and hard working corps of dancers. Particularly impressive is "The Rumble," which appears to have acquired some new moves, and the transformingly lyrical "Somewhere," which is stunningly lit in coup de thιβtre fashion by David Saint. It is sung (well and to solid dramaturgic effect) by the momentarily transformed Anybodys (Alexandra Frohlinger) onstage. Drew Foster (Riff), German Santiago (Bernardo) and the entire ensemble kick in with lively, compelling performances.

All of the other elements of this touring production—scenery, lighting, costumes, the orchestra, sound system—make major contributions to this first class, revitalized West Side Story

West Side Story continues performances through May 6, 2012 at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) Prudential Hall, One Center Street, Newark, NJ 07102; Box Office: 888-466-5722; online: www.njpac.org. Upcoming Tour Dates: Toronto, Canada, Center for the Arts, May 8 - June 3; Durham, North Carolina, Durham PAC, June 5 - June 10, 2012. For more information on the tour, visit www.broadwaywestsidestory.com/index.html.

West Side Story based on a conception of Jerome Robbins; book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim; directed by David Saint

Cast
The Jets
Action……………………………………John Drake
Anybodys…………………..Alexandra Frohlinger
A-rab…………………………………Clay Thomson
Baby John……………………….Christopher Rice
Big Deal……………………………….Nathan Keen
Diesel………………………………….Casey Garvin
Graziella………………………….Kristen Paulicelli
Hotsie…………………………………Kirstin Tucker
Mugsy………………………………Jessica Swesey
Riff……………………………………….Drew Foster
Snowboy……………………………..Harris Milgrim
Tony…………………………………….Ross Lekites
Velma……………………………………Skye Mattox
Zaza……………………………………….Laura Irion
The Sharks Alicia………………………………….Alicia Charles
Anita……………………………...Michelle Aravena
Bebecita………………………………..Dani Spieler
Bernardo…………………………German Santiago
Bolo………………………………...Jeffrey C. Sousa
Chino………………………………………Jay Garcia
Consuela…………………………...Lori Ann Ferreri
Frederico…………………...Eric Anthony Johnson
Fernanda………………………...Kathryn Lin Terza
Inca…………………………….Dean Andre de Luna
Maria………………………………………….Evy Ortiz
Pepe………………………………..Michael Scirrotto
Rosalia…………………………………Gizel Jimenez
Tio………………..Waldemar Quinones-Villanueva
The Adults Doc…………………………………….John O'Creagh
Glad Hand………………………….Stephen DeRosa
Krupke……………………………………..Wally Dunn
Lt. Schrank………………………………Mike Boland


Photo: Carol Rosegg


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- Bob Rendell



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