Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
West Side Story
The star-crossed lovers Maria and Tony are lovingly portrayed by Michaela Bateman and Nicholas Handley. Bateman's lyric tones and shimmering high notes express the unquestioning purity of her love for Tony. The playful quality of her acting sketches Maria's character and charm in the brief scenes between songs, making us love her, too. Handley ably portrays Tony as a teenager longing for something better yet confounded by his impulses. His crooning tenor is gentle and sweet. One could hope for more punch in the dramatic parts, but perhaps I am too much influenced by the Broadway belters I adore.
The part of Anita (Stevie Nichols) is the major catalyst in this ultimately tragic story. I enjoyed Nichols's effortless multitasking: friend, lover, seamstress, go-between, mourner, traitor. Her singing and dancing are filled with Puerto Rican fire even while Anita is fully on board in "America." Nichols embodies Anita as a force of nature and shoulders this central role with talent and grace. Chita and Rita would applaud.
I experienced this performance as a series of iconic set pieces. Most of the action takes place in and around a city playground feebly guarded by a link fence. Many of the audience-favorite dance scenes take place here with the gangs of boys (and one girl, Anybodys, well played by Emma Elliot). Bernardo (Giacomo Zafarano) is suitably commanding as the leader of the Sharks and he looks the part (George Chakiris in the movie version will always be the handsome template). Louis R. Giannini, Jr. as Riff, frontman for the Jets, is the perfect daddy-o. Peter Bennett's choreography is rooted in Jerome Robbins's balletic moves and street-wise bits and it is an absolute pleasure to watch this cast jump, twirl, snap, mambo and bop.
Pieces like "The Dance at the Gym" and "Cool" are generally overshadowed in memory by West Side Story's love songs "Maria," "Tonight," and "Somewhere." But these crowd scenes are the hot center of the action. Not only do they tell the larger story of the forces that doom Tony and Maria, but they describe the urban scene, define the time period, and move the plot.
Special mention goes to one of the Jets, James Ackermann as Action, especially in "Gee, Officer Krupke"; he is a standout within the ensemble cast. And a shout-out to dancer Courtney Giannini as Velma, the chill blonde foil to Anita's spark.
A season ticket holder at the matinee remarked that ALT's sets this year are extraordinarily good. She's right. In this case, kudos go to Daniel K. Tabeling for the New York City set design and Ryan Jason Cook for lighting the lovers as if they exist in a "Somewhere" just for them.
Through March 26, 2016, Friday-Saturday 7:30 p.m., Sunday 2 p.m.; special performances Thursday, March 17, 7:30 p.m.; and Saturday, March 26, 2 p.m. Albuquerque Little Theatre, 224 San Pasquale SW, Box office: (505) 242-4750, albuquerquelittletheatre.org