BWW Review: WEST SIDE STORY at Casa Manana
There's one sizable concern that I have about Casa Manana's production of WEST SIDE STORY, and that's the fact that it's only slated to perform for two weekends, with closing night quickly approaching. This version of the classic 1950's American musical may not only be the best production to appear in The Dome in recent memory, but this local showing could quite probably rival any previous incarnation of the show altogether...ever.
A "modern" interpretation of Shakespeare's ROMEO AND JULIET, WEST SIDE STORY is the classic boy-meets-girl tale, but each lover plays forbidden fruit to the other. Without the support from either's social circles, their fate is doomed, and the show climaxes in a tear-jerking tragedy. Of course, the music is heartwarmingly and toe-tappingly in contrast to the impending disaster, boasting some of Broadway's most celebrated showtunes, like "Tonight," "I Feel Pretty," "America" and "Maria."
It is common and, in some ways, expected for WEST SIDE STORY's choreography to be staged using Jerome Robbins iconic footwork, and this production is no exception. But, DFW dance master Jeremy Dumont has seamlessly edited the show for Casa's unique setup, rounding the stage picture out toward all corners of the stage, and creatively zigzagging Robbins' intricate steps across every corner of scenery to create an intimate, in-your-face experience. Having danced across the country in tours of WEST SIDE STORY between 2005-2010, Dumont's passion for the show is clearly articulated in the high caliber product of his dancers. The fact that these dances came together in less than one week is remarkable.
Although the musical staging is based on the original 1957 choreography (and the script remains faithfully intact), the remaining elements of this production look and feel current, if not timeless. Director Eric Woodall (whose "day job" is casting big Broadway gigs) and his technical team have set the stage entirely in black and white, from the dramatic set and lights down to every last costume (with minor exceptions, that I won't spoil). All metaphors of the color scheme aside, this intentional detail sets the focus directly on the characters, and their intense level of conflict is breathtaking. One other noticeable change was that it seems Puerto Rican accents have also been minimized. In this production, Maria is the sole character who seems to unapologetically embrace her character's native tongue. In breaking the traditional WEST SIDE STORY mold, purists of the piece will have to not only accept the drastically different costumes (designed exquisitely by Tammy Spencer), but Bob Lavallee's lavish new scenery, which manages to balance the intimacy of the smaller scenes with the cold, dangerous, and urban environment.
Not only are the inanimate objects of this WEST SIDE STORY eye-catching, but the group of young actors here are undoubtedly as attractive as they are skilled. Addie Morales, who previously appeared as a youth actor at Casa, displays an expansive emotional depth that is paired with her soaring soprano voice in the role of Maria. She's well-paired opposite her Tony, John Riddle, who recently appeared on Broadway in THE VISIT alongside original WEST SIDE star, Chita Rivera. If there has ever been a stronger vocalist in the role, it would be quite a surprise. As Anita, Cassidy Stoner sets the stage on fire, not only in her epic song-and-dance moments, but with shameless spunk and sass that dominates the room. Adam Soniak (Riff), Jill B. Nicholas (Anybodys), Jacob Rivera-Sanchez (Chino), and David Coffee (Doc) each bring an extraordinary, new energy to their individual roles, owning the stage in their famed moments. In fact, each actor of this 27-member company is the perfect piece to complete the complex puzzle that is WEST SIDE STORY: they're all triple threats who work together to share the story rather than stealing focus, and the result is a not-to-be-missed musical masterpiece that carries Casa Manana's already stellar reputation to new heights.
For tickets and more information, visit www.CasaManana.org. The production continues through Sunday, March 12th, with tickets ranging from $45-$75.