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Review: WEST SIDE STORY at Signature Theatre is Just Plain Extraordinary

The album of the original cast recording of WEST SIDE STORY was the first record I ever purchased (remember the RCA Record Club?). I love this show.

I saw the film on May 5, 1961 at the Gary Theater in Boston. It was the same day Alan Shepard manned the first suborbital space flight.

I also recently saw the most recent revival of the show in June, 2014, at the National Theater which starred MaryJoanna Grisso as "Maria" in a Spanish infused version which then transferred to Broadway. I was thrilled to meet Book Writer, Arthur Laurents.

When I saw that Signature Theatre's Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer was planning on presenting WEST SIDE STORY I was thrilled. He plucked his Associate Artistic Director Matthew Gardner to Direct. What a brilliant move this was. Gardner has assembled a talented cast of 30 to present a WEST SIDE STORY for the ages. Schaeffer commented: "You will never see a production of WEST SIDE STORY ever again with a cast of 30, an orchestra of 17, in a 276 seat theatre ever again!" Due to popular demand, the show has been extended to January 31, 2016. So get your tickets NOW!

The amazing Grisso returns to the pivotal role of "Maria" from Broadway and is just plain wonderful. Also from the Broadway WSS comes the terrific Sean Ewing as "Bernardo", the leader of the "Sharks". Leading the "Jets" is Max Clayton who shines as "Riff". There is the astonishing Natascia Diaz as "Anita", Bernardo's girlfriend, who seems to have been born to play the part. Wait till you see her dance in "Dance at the Gym", lead the iconic "America" where she shows her comedic talents, and her moving duet with Grisso in "A Boy Like That/I Have a Love". Playing the crucial role of "Tony" or "Anton" is Austin Colby. Wait till you hear him sing the anthem "Something's Coming", "Maria", "The Balcony Scene" with Grisso, their marvelous rendition of "One Hand, One Hear", and their "Finale" together which literally brought tears to my eyes.

WEST SIDE STORY owns its place in history to Jerome Robbins who directed and choreographed the entire original production. The genius of Robbins' dances has been reverently replicated and enhanced by Choreographer Extraordinaire Parker Esse who once again demonstrates why he is in such demand in the local theater community.

And now to the unforgettable music by the great Leonard Bernstein (lyrics were by a young Stephen Sondheim). That responsibility is handled by the great maestro Jon Kalbfleisch who directs the superb 17 piece orchestra. It's a thrill to be able to watch him at work high above the thrust stage. Pay attention to the brass and you'll notice how often they use muted trumpets and trombones. I thought the tempo used during the memorable "Prologue" was slow at first but it was just perfect.

I will always remember the amazing dream sequence in "Somewhere" which I don't recall from any other production.

Wait till you see the "Jets" shine in "Gee, Officer Krupke" and "Cool".

The entire ensemble deserves praise for their talent, stamina, voices, and incredible dancing. I list them all with great appreciation: Jasmine Alexis, Jacob Beasley, Kurt Boehm, Jennifer Cordiner, Ryan Fitzgerald, Michael Graceffa, Colleen Hayes, Jamie Owes, Ryan Kanfer, Ilda Mason, Katie Mariko Murray, Tony Neidenbach, Zachery Norton,DJ Petrosino, Olivia Ashley Reed, Eric Rivas, Maria Rizzo, Ryan Sellers, Bobby Smith, Carni Spring, Russell Sunday, Joseph Tudor, Shawna Walker, J. Morgan White, and John Leslie Wolfe.

Misha Kachman (Scenic Design) utilizes the thrust stage so the dancers have plenty of room. Her use of the elevated metal catwalks for alleys, ladders, and fire escapes works well, especially when you can hear the heavy feet of the actors running above the audience.

Frank Labovitz did the appropriate and clever Costumes. Jason Lyons' Lighting is spot on (kudos to the two follow-spot operators). Thanks to the Sound Design by Lane Elms, one can hear every single lyric.

I promise you will get goose-bumps.

One quote as you enter the MAX is from composer Leonard Bernstein. "This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before." He has accomplished this.

Thank you Director Gardner who has presented a WEST SIDE STORY to be treasured.

WEST SIDE STORY now has been extended to January 31, 2016. For tickets, call 703-820-9771 or visit Check out the great videos of the rehearsal process at the web site.

On January 7, 2016 from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. there will be a free presentation called "Inside Signature" featuring Grisso and Ewing speak about their experiences playing "Maria" and "Bernardo".

For sale in the gift shop: CD of Original Cast Recording $15, DVD of film $15, Mug $10, Tee shirts $20, poster $10, and magnets $3. Notice the cover of the CD lists songs by Arthur Laurentis instead of Book by Arthur Laurents. I showed this to Director Gardner who immediately took a photo of it.

I highly recommend the book "OUR STORY JETS AND SHARKS, THEN AND NOW" (as told by cast members of the film "West Side Story". I attended a Baltimore Symphony Orchestra concert version of the film while the film was shown above them. Following the concert, three former actors from the film: Bert Michaels (Snowboy),Eddie Verso (Juano) and Harvey Hohnecker (Mouthpiece) spoke about their experiences making the film. The book is very informative and entertaining.

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From This Author - Charles Shubow