BWW Review: WEST SIDE STORY at Comic Opera Of Berlin -- Flashes of genius break through an uneven cast and hit-and-miss choreography.

BWW Review: WEST SIDE STORY at Comic Opera Of Berlin -- Flashes of genius break through an uneven cast and hit-and-miss choreography.

General Director Barrie Kosky has done it again. His directorial instincts continually hit the "sweet spot" with Berlin's audiences making his WEST SIDE STORY at Berlin's Comic Opera (Komische Oper Berlin) -- despite an uneven cast, and hit-and-miss choreography -- a huge success. It is no wonder that the Comic Opera is enjoying a box office boom and selling nearly 90% of their capacity to over 230 performances a year. Whatever he is doing, Mr. Kosky should continue doing it, because he is obviously doing something very right.

Mr. Kosky set the musical on a mostly-bare stage, using only the theater's turntable, Franck Evin's excellent lighting, an occasional piece of furniture or stage prop and stage fog as his set. During the song "Tonight, Tonight" and all of the stage fighting sequences, the setting proved breathtakingly effective. It was impossible to tell what time period the show was set in, as Esther Bialas' costumes appeared to be mid-1980's, but the Shark's body tattoos and a lot of the choreography pointed to a later time period. The Sound Design from Matthias Reusch, and Sebastian Lipski was very good, especially considering that Comic Opera very seldom uses microphones in their productions.

West Side Story is a big dance show. Credited as Co-Director with Mr. Kosky is Choreographer, Otto Pichler. His choreography during the Orchestral prelude and in all of the fight sequences was simply spectacular and Anita's "rape scene" in the second act was both the most explicit and most effective I have ever witnessed. Unfortunately, during the "musical" numbers, Mr. Pichler seemed to pinch thrown-away moves from Madonna's mid-1990s music videos and all too often put the dancers in the inverted V formation that is "de rigeur" in that genre. Over-the-top and often vulgar, I stopped counting the crotch grabs (both male and female) at 100. Additionally, the homoerotic overtones of a lot of the Jet's choreography was both out of character, gratuitous and showed a lack of imagination. It would have been nice to differentiate the movement styles of the Jets and the Sharks more. It was all a bit homogenous.

BWW Review: WEST SIDE STORY at Comic Opera Of Berlin -- Flashes of genius break through an uneven cast and hit-and-miss choreography.To quote Stephen Sondheim, "the most beautiful sound I ever heard" yesterday evening was the gorgeous singing of Jasmina Sakr as Maria. In an uneven cast, she stood head-and-shoulders above the rest. Her Maria was both the most fully-realized characterization, and her singing was never short of gorgeous. Tansel Akzeybek as Tony has a serviceable tenor voice, but not much more. There was no trace of a "Tony" in his performance. He sang and randomly gesticulated without ever achieving an emotional connection with any other performer on stage. Christoph Jonas provided a well-danced, muscular Riff. Unfortunately, Lorenzo Soragni as Bernardo left no real impression. Sigalit Feig struggled mightily with both her character and with her songs as Anita. She moves well, but she mugs and flips her hair incessantly. During most of her performance, and especially in the second act "Rape Scene," she could not muster the required emotion.

Last, but certainly not least, was the spectacular conducting of Koen Schoots and the marvelous playing of the Comic Opera's orchestra. What a joy it was the hear Bernstein's music played by an orchestra of this size and ability. Mr. Schoots' coordination with the stage perforrmers was excellent and the nuance and color that he brought out in this oft-played score reminded one again and again of Bernstein's genius.

All photos: Copyright Iko Freese/ Reproduced with permission.

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From This Author Mark Janicello

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