Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
West Side Story
This musical was first developed by a starry creative team. It included a book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and original choreography and direction by Jerome Robbins (who also had the concept for this work).
Inspired by Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, the scene is shifted to Manhattan in 1957. A significant portion of the story finds street gangs at war. The Jets (who are white) and Sharks (Puerto Rican) are enemies. Tony (Will Branner) has lately tried to separate from his group, the Jets, yet sings "Something's Coming" as if he has a premonition. At a gym dance, he meets Maria (Addie Morales), who hopes Tony can prevent a major gang brawl. Banner's rendition of "Maria" is filled with pure emotion. The two young people meet on her balcony where they combine sweet and rising voices on "Tonight."
The rumble blasts forward. A Jet leader, Riff (Tyler Hanes), is knifed to death. In response, Tony kills Bernardo (Sean Ewing), who is Maria's brother. Anita (Skyler Volpe) advises her close friend Maria to distance herself from Tonybut Maria is magnetically drawn to the young man. And so forth. Those new to this musical should discover the rest of the plot for themselves. Others, who have seen various renderings of the show, know where it all heads.
This West Side Story is not merely high on fuel from the get-go but is performed with enviable vocal and dance dexterity throughout. The "Prologue," featuring Jets and Sharks, and "Jet Song," led by Riff, get off the mark with flair and acrobatic-like dance. Midway through the first act, Anita, Rosalia (Linedy Genao), and other Shark Girls provide an animated "America." A bit later, the lovers, Tony and Maria, are together for a nuance and loving "One Hand, One Heart." The second act begins with some Shark females singing "I Feel Pretty." That is followed by the entire company's "Somewhere." Then, the contrasting "Gee, Officer Krupke," features a number of Jets.
You might by now be thinking that it all sounds fine but wonder just what distinguishes this particular production from other successful ones. Julianne Boyd is artistic leader of BSC and she has, first off, a great feel for what works. She is the helm of this show and wisely brought aboard Robert La Fosse for choreographic movement. He is a former American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet dancer, and his work for this production is stunning.
Boyd's precise presentation has terrific looks. For most of the time, the backdrop set (scenic design by Kristen Robinson) includes smudged brick and window New York City buildings. Sara Jean Tosetti's costumes are resplendent. Musical director Darren R. Cohen should not be overlooked; his value is obvious.
All of that said, the young actors Will Branner (as Tony) and Addie Morales (Maria), each new to Barrington Stage Company, are youthful stars whose futures are eminently bright ones. They sing with full hearts. Their voices blend as if this is meant to be. They've evidently been well-trained in terms of pitch and phrasing. The pair is either tender or excitable. It is easy to empathize and find oneself lost within their story. Through their musical and performance gifts, they intoxicate.
West Side Story, through September 1st, 2018, at Barrington Stage Company, 30 Union St., Pittsfield MA. For tickets, call 413-236-8888 or visit Barringtonstageco.org.