BWW Review: WEST SIDE STORY Makes Phenomenal Opening at the Arts Asylum in Kansas City
Gang violence erupts at The Arts Asylum in Kansas City and the audience erupts with a thunderous standing ovation for WEST SIDE STORY on opening night Saturday August 22. Michael Grayman and Andrew Parkhurst direct WEST SIDE STORY, which opens the fifth season of Spinning Tree Theatre, recreating the choreography of Jerome Robbins who directed and choreographed the entire original production.
Based on a conception by Jerome Robbins with book by Arthur Laurents, WEST SIDE STORY features the music of Leonard Bernstein and lyrics of Stephen Sondheim. Opening on Broadway in 1957 the musical earned six Tony Awards nominations, winning for Best Choreography and Best Scenic Design.
Inspired by William Shakespeare's ROMEO AND JULIET, WEST SIDE STORY is the tale of two street gangs, the Jets and the Sharks. The rivalry between the two gangs grows as a former member of the Jets falls in love with the sister of the Puerto Rican gang leader. The Bernstein musical score includes "America," "I Feel Pretty" and "Tonight" among others.
I did not see David Copperfield in the audience, but there was magic on the stage. Grayman and Parkhurst assembled 30 of the most talented performers in Kansas City, to produce WEST SIDE STORY with an all-local cast. Phenomenal is the one word which best describes the Spinning Tree production. The beautiful choreography is breathtaking, each member of the cast performing in perfect synchronization with one another. The simple sets and moderate use of props is perfect for the small intimate stage of the Arts Asylum.
Megan Herrera stars as Maria and Jacob Aaron Cullum as Tony her love interest from the Jets. Both performers have beautiful voices and when they perform the balcony scene; their voices blend in one of the best duets to cross a Kansas City stage. Herrera proves her talents as a dramatic artist with one of the most powerful performances late in the second act.
Vanessa Severo returns to the Spinning Tree Theatre as Anita, Maria's sister and girlfriend to Bernardo the leader of the Sharks. Severo demonstrates her musical ability when accompanied by Shon Ruffin, and the Shark girls singing "America." This song is a highlight in a show that could be an entire highlight reel.
Daniel Eugene Parman makes his Spinning Tree debut as Riff the leader of the Jets and Donovan Woods makes his debut as Bernardo. Both actors give strong performances, with remarkable vocals. Kip Niven returns to Spinning Tree as Doc, the proprietor of the drug store.
The 30-member cast includes many of the best voices in Kansas City; Matthew A. King as Pepe, Daria LeGrand as Anybodys, Stefanie Stevens as Minnie, and Andrew Stout making his Spinning Tree debut singing a fantastic solo, joining Tony and Maria in "Somewhere." A nine-piece orchestra conducted by Gary Green who also plays the piano accompanies the cast.
This fabulous production of WEST SIDE STORY raises the bar not only for the remainder of the Spinning Tree Theatre 2015-2016 season, but also for all musicals in Kansas City. Not anyone with an opportunity to attend this production at the Arts Asylum and does should be lodged at another type of asylum. WEST SIDE STORY continues through September 5. Purchase tickets by calling 816-569-5277 or visit the Spinning Tree Theatre website. Photos by Manon Halliburton courtesy of Spinning Tree Theatre.