Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Written by Arthur Laurents, with music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and originally directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins, West Side Story has the perfect combination of drama, music and dance with some of the most well-known, and beloved, theatre songs. All four of these men were performing at the top of their game with their contributions to this show, and West Side Story has a message about how love, acceptance and understanding can help rival groups find a common ground that still resonates sixty years since originally premiering.
Based on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, but updating the setting to 1950s New York City, the story changes Shakespeare's feuding families to rival gangs. The star-crossed lovers are Tony, the former leader of the Jets, the white local teenage gang, and Maria, the sister of Bernardo, the leader of the Puerto Rican gang the Sharks. Tony and Maria are caught in the middle as both gangs fight to hold on to their home turf.
The score features such classic, moving ballads as "Somewhere" and "Something's Coming," along with the upbeat humorous numbers "I Feel Pretty" and "Officer Krupke," the heavy dance sequences "Cool" and "America," and the lovely duets "A Boy Like That" and "Tonight." There isn't a weak song in the score, with Sondheim's colorful and concise lyrics in perfect harmony with Bernstein's soaring music and Laurents' succinct book.
SMTC's cast was led by Michael Schauble as Tony and Karylin Veres as Maria. Both exhibited superb singing voices that instilled every note of their songs with clarity and meaning. They also created appropriately anxious, enthusiastic and realistic characters who are excited about the prospects of their new-found relationship. As Anita, Brielle Amrein was a firecracker, as she projected a raw naturalness to the authoritative part but also showed hints of compassion underneath.
There wasn't a weak link in the supporting cast or large ensemble, with Cole Brackney and Rob Allocca as, respectively, Riff, the Jets' leader, and Bernardo, projecting the appropriate heightened sense of anger and animosity toward each other. Bill Diekmann was superb as Doc, the musical's voice of reason, while Austin Delp had the perfect display of pent-up energy as Action and Shawn Wong had the right balance of pensiveness and confusion as Chino. Madison Ottinger was superb as Anybodys, the tomboy who wants to be a Jet but is constantly told that girls aren't allowed in the gang, and Fred Gerle and Bob Downing, as Lieutenant Shrank and Officer Krupke, perfectly showed that the anger and hatred people have for those who aren't like them isn't something just exhibited by the young. Nicki Bond and Lauren Koeritzer provided exceptional voices in the "Somewhere" ballet.
Director David Hock and choreographer Bill Hotaling staged the show beautifully, including a superbly choreographed fight during the rumble sequence and gorgeous reproductions of Robbins' iconic choreography. The scenery, props and costumes, while all rentals, were quite effective, with impressive and numerous drops and large set pieces and an abundance of colorful and period appropriate costumes. SMTC prides itself on always having a large orchestra accompaniment and the combination of Kevin Hayward's excellent conducting of the 28-piece orchestra and Curtis Moeller's music direction provided an impressive sound throughout.
West Side Story is an emotionally moving piece of theatre. The themes of dedication to family and friends, loyalty, and how the love between two people from different backgrounds can help to overcome their differences despite the hatred that surrounds them are ones that will never grow old. With a gifted cast and talented creative elements, Scottsdale Musical Theater Company's production of this classic musical was a superb and poignant reminder of the show's thought-provoking messages of acceptance and tolerance.
The Scottsdale Musical Theater Company's production of West Side Story ran from August 17th through August 20th, 2017 with performances at the Tempe Center for the Arts, 700 W. Rio Salado Parkway. For tickets and information on their upcoming productions, visit www.scottsdalemusicaltheater.com or call 602-909-4215.
Directed by David Hock