Review: WEST SIDE STORY: You've got to be taught

The production runs through July 16 at Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston in Waltham.

By: Jul. 11, 2022
Review: WEST SIDE STORY: You've got to be taught

There's a new spring in the step of Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston in Waltham as award-winning director and choreographer Rachel Bertone takes over as Artistic Director, succeeding Robert J. Eagle, the beloved founder and Producing Artistic Director of the company who retired in June, 2021, after a 52-year career. The season opens with West Side Story, directed and choreographed by Bertone, with Dan Rodriguez by her side as music director.

Conceived by Jerome Robbins, West Side Story boasts an impressive group of creators that includes Leonard Bernstein (music), Stephen Sondheim (lyrics), and Arthur Laurents (book). The original 1957 Broadway production ran for 732 performances, garnered six Tony Award nominations (winning two), and spawned a 1961 film (Best Picture Oscar), as well as countless regional and revival productions. A new generation of viewers has the opportunity to see a fresh take with Stephen Spielberg's 2021 film adaptation.

Bertone has some big shoes to fill in her new post and boldly forges into territory previously inhabited by geniuses of both stage and screen. It is most fitting that her first offering is one that relies so heavily on dance and music to tell the story and I couldn't wait to see what she would bring to her telling of this storied Story. She definitely puts her stamp on it, notably with her choreography "inspired by" Robbins.

In addition to Bertone's outstanding direction and choreography, the solid foundation of this production is built on a vibrant 19-piece orchestra, exciting and realistic fighting and physicality crafted by Angie Jepson, and mood and atmosphere evoked by Janie Howland's scenic design and Franklin Meissner Jr.'s lighting design. Original costume design by Tiffany Howard draws a distinction between the Jets and the Sharks, with special kudos for the colorful garb worn by Anita and the Shark girls.

One of the keys to making this West Side Story especially strong is the attention paid to diversity in casting. It seems like a no-brainer for a show about warring factions of immigrants, but it has not always been honored. This group, the majority of whom are current or former students of The Boston Conservatory, is young, diverse, and loaded with talent. The dancers electrify Bertone's choreography, and the singers are melodic and intense.

Of the featured players, Blake Du Bois (Tony) and Eevie Perez (Maria) sing like angels, both together and solo, and portray the urgency of their sudden, surprising love. Jack Mullen plays Riff with more than a dash of dangerousness, sort of a less criminal Cagney-type leader of the gang. Diego Klock-Pérez underplays Bernardo with a smoldering demeanor, in contrast to the fiery Bianca Rivera-Irions, a genuine triple threat as Anita. Rick Sherburne exhibits Doc's goodness and helplessness, while Todd Yard gives an appropriately nasty rendition of Lt. Schrank. Gracin Wilkins' (Anybodys) poignant delivery of "Somewhere" underscores a moving ballet sequence by a white-clad ensemble.

Reagle Music Theatre has a long tradition of revisiting musicals from the past that their audiences may remember fondly or discover anew. West Side Story has never receded far from public view and it has been an accompaniment to me for almost my whole life. How can it be that, after all these years, it still has the power to soar, to make me cry, to entertain me? Most of the credit goes to Shakespeare, Robbins, Bernstein, Sondheim, and Laurents. Now I'll add Bertone to the list.

Photo credit: Courtesy Reagle Music Theatre/(C) Herb Philpott [Bianca Rivera-Irions (center) and Ensemble]


Based on a Conception of Jerome Robbins

Book by Arthur Laurents, Music by Leonard Bernstein, Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

Entire Original Production Directed and Choreographed by Jerome Robbins

Directed and Choreographed by Rachel Bertone (Choreography inspired by Jerome Robbins), Music Direction by Dan Rodriguez; Fight and Intimacy Director, Angie Jepson; Scenic Design, Janie Howland; Original Costume Design, Tiffany Howard; Technical Director, Lori E. Baruch; Props Master, Isaac West; Sound Design, Robby Davis; Lighting Design, Franklin Meissner, Jr.; Production Stage Manager, Brian M. Robillard; Dramaturg, Sarah Gruber

CAST: Blake Du Bois, Eevie Perez, Bianca Rivera-Irions, Diego Klock-Pérez, Jack Mullen, Nico JC Ochoa, Rick Sherburne, Todd Yard, Jean-Alfred Chavier, Conor Meehan, Seth Cooper, Nate Walsh, Felipe Guzzo, Gracin Wilkins, Christopher Mitchell, Zach Eisenberg, Annaliese Wilbur, Ana Viveros, Sam Griffin, Lauryn Withnell, Brianna Maguire, Jaden Tai Martinez, Ian Blanco, Marissa Pineda, Adrian Ruz, Karina Gonzalez, Deirdre Roberts, Michael Di Leo, Rachel Madson, Jenna Sage, Mark P. Szpak

ORCHESTRA: Conductor Dan Rodriguez, Jeff Leonard, Bill Kirkley, Jeri Sykes, Todd Brunel, Patti Yee, Paul Meneghini, Greg Gettel, Megan Riccio, George Jones, Caroline Leguia, Clara Kebabian, Caroline Kim, Michael Frontz, Rusy Chandler, Tom Young, Mindy Cimini, Wayne Ward, Kevin Burke, Joshua Goldman

Performances through July 16 at Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston, 617 Lexington Street, Waltham, MA; Box Office 781-891-5600 or Click Here


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