West Side Story

Max von Essen
Pittsburgh CLO closes their 2008 season with a respectful and satisfying production of West Side Story. Retaining the influence of original production director/choreographer Jerome Robbins, this is a nice opportunity to whet the appetites of those able to venture to the Big Apple to see the upcoming Arthur Laurents-directed version on Broadway. Laurents wrote the book for West Side Story, which is accompanied by the exciting score by Leonard Bernstein (music) and Stephen Sondheim (lyrics).

Max von Essen (Tony) and Ali Ewoldt (Maria) lead a solid cast and ensemble in this classic Romeo and Juliet story set in New York City's Hell's Kitchen in the 1950s. Von Essen carefully toes the line of Tony's emerging maturity, as the ambitious young man ready to leave gang life but destined for tragedy. He shows a confident commitment to the role and brings a youthful yet solid voice. Ms. Ewoldt has a lovely voice and and a charming innocence. If there were a bit more chemistry between the two, the pairing would be near perfect.

As Riff, Spencer Howard is a stand out among the Jets gang members. His dancing, acting and singing mesh perfectly to form the character. Wilson Mendieta is well cast as Bernardo—full of bravado, with a glimpse of fear just beneath the surface. Manoly Farrell's Anita wears her jaded attitude with pride and the actress—with her ensemble— does justice to the showcase song, "America."

The Jets
Mark Esposito's choreography generally retains the energetic, athletic Robbins feel. However, there are a few brief though jarring anachronistic gestures and moves, and some awkward moments make for a disappointing dream ballet. Otherwise, director Van Kaplan has done some nice work with the cast, and with integrating set changes to provide an overall solid effort. It's a pleasure to hear the score played with flourish and without being overpowering; thanks to musical director Tom Helm for his work.

West Side Story August 5-17, 2008 at the Benedum Center. For more information, call 412-456-6666 or visit pittsburghCLO.org.

Photo: Matt Polk

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-- Ann Miner

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