BWW Review: WEST SIDE STORY at Walk Festival Hall
On August 17, 2018, The Grand Teton Music Festival presented Leonard Bernstein's 1957 musical, WEST SIDE STORY. In the intimate, wood-lined Walk Festival Hall in Teton Village, Wyoming, Music Director Donald Runnicles led the festival orchestra, which is composed of players from fine ensembles across the globe. The orchestra's music was "surround sound" in the fullest sense of the term. Patrons not only heard but experienced Bernstein's Blues, Mambo, and Cha-Cha with all their senses as the rhythms encompassed the hall.
This was a staged concert performance directed by David Lefkowich that had the singing actors performing on a small bi-level stage behind the players. There was no scenery, and in the program there was no credit for costuming, but all were dressed in the latest styles from the fifties. For both visual and sonic reasons, I wish the stage had been set in front of the orchestra.
Young, tall, and slim Norman Reinhardt was a stalwart Tony who sang with strong, gloriously resonant tenor tones. The music world will be hearing a great deal more of this interesting singer who can create a believable character with only his voice and his actions.
Meechot Marrero was a loving Maria with a sweet, delicate soprano voice that told onlookers she was a great deal more than a gangster's girlfriend. A petite girl who was an excellent dancer, Maria belonged to another world and Tony wanted to join her in it. Unfortunately, destiny did not allow Tony and Maria, or their forbears, Romeo and Juliet, to reach their unpromised utopia.
Maria's Shark girlfriend, Anita, was the earthy Broadway artist, Gabrielle McClinton, who charmed everyone with her cool moves and sexy personality. Backed by Runnicles' translucent orchestra, McClinton and mezzo-soprano Dana-Beth Miller as Rosalia led the Shark Girls in an unforgettably amusing rendition of "America." Tobias Greenhalgh as the rough and always ready-to-fight Riff led the Jets in their energetic recreation of a 1950s drugstore.
Tony and Maria pledge their vows to each other. Despite the forces that want to pull them apart, they sing of "One Hand, One Heart" in a bridal shop. Meanwhile, their gangs are killing each other's men under the highway.
Act II opened with Meechot Marrero singing an effervescent, sunny-voiced version of Maria's "I Feel Pretty." For this single moment, Maria could bounce around the stage with joy and then sing of "Somewhere" with Tony while the dark chords in the accompaniment told of the tragic day approaching. Bernstein told his story with a great many musical nuances that Runnicles brought out in tapestries of orchestral color.
Andrew Munz as Officer Krupke with Jeff Smith and the other Jets bring in a bit of levity at this point as they pass around Krupke's hat and sing of psychological relationships. Back in Maria's bedroom, she and Anita sing of love and the eternal roles of women as they react to the progressive actions their lovers undertake.
Although in this rendition of the score, Act II was much shorter than Act I, the shock of Tony's death was a sharp thrust both musically and visually. It took Bernstein's gorgeous orchestration to make the audience understand the overall meaning of the tragedy.
During July and August, the Grand Teton Music Festival presents orchestral and chamber music with even a bit of vocal music at times. The music is top tier and the setting incredible. When you come to Grand Teton National Park and its neighbor, Yellowstone, don't forget to include some of this wonderful artistry. 2018 was the 57th year of the Grand Teton Music Festival.