BWW Review: Solid WEST SIDE STORY at GCT
West Side Story/book by Arthur Laurents/music by Leonard Bernstein; lyrics by Stephen Sondheim/directed by Danny Michaels and Orlando Alexander/choreographed by Orlando Alexander/music director: Steven Applegate/Glendale Centre Theatre (GCT)/through May 26
As actors/actresses for their favorite Broadway musical of all time and they most often concur, West Side Story. Why? It has phenomenal music by Leonard Bernstein, with concise poetic lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, a tight and gripping book by Arthur Laurents ... and ... brilliant choreography established in 1957 by Jerome Robbins. It is one of the most powerful love stories ever penned, next to Romeo and Juliet. With all these elements complementing one another, from the first downbeat of the orchestra and the appearance of the Jets creeping in one by one on a half-lit stage, the show pulls you in and doesn't let go for its two and a half hours ... and its message and images of love linger long after.
left to right: Chanlon Kaufman as Tony and Ani Marderosian as Maria
I think it important to mention Arthur Laurents' revival in 2009 because it changed the face of the show. It was far more realistic. First, the score was sung with some lyrics in English and some in Spanish. Also, more Spanish was spoken within the dialogue of the scenes. Sondheim gave his approval for this to draw contemporary Hispanic audiences to the show, and it makes sense, for Puerto Ricans arriving in the US still spoke Spanish. Also, the ending of this revival is less theatrical, as the opposing gangs do not carry Tony's body off. It would never be allowed in a modern CSI (Crime Scene Investigation). Without that overpowering piece of staging to conclude, it is left solely to the power of Maria's riveting speech against violence to encourage hope for any possible reconciliation between the warring gangs. Many argued against this version particularly because the ending showing hope for the future in a total sense of community was dimmed.
Thankfully the current production at GCT is the original, traditional staging with the theatrical ending in tact. The ensemble, under the uber skilled direction of Danny Michaels and Orlando Alexander, is the top, making the entire production more than satisfying. It is such a joy to see such young triple threats throughout the ensemble, in which there are no weak links. If these guys aren't dancer dancers, they sure could fool me with their unbounded energy and athletic leaps.
Linda Neel as Anita
Ani Marderosian and Chanlon Kaufman as Maria and Tony set the stage aglow with their skill, passion and wonderful chemistry together. Marderosian is petite and pretty and has a lovely vocal instrument; Kaufman has a sweet nature and a powerful singing voice. Both are dynamite actors/singers/dancers. Linda Neel makes Anita earthy, bold, yet still humane. Ethan Daniel Corbett stands tall and fearsome as Riff, and John Paul Batista is approriately strong but could use more sensuality as Bernardo. Roman Pantoja excels as Baby John and Adam Trent as Action, Bridget Pugliese as Anybodys, Sergio Salinas as Chino and the other Sharks and Jets are beautifully rendered, as are the adults: Kyle Kelley as Doc, Ted Wells as Lt. Schrank and the swishy Gladhand at the gym dance, and Kevin Holmquist as Officer Krupke. All the lady friends of the opposing gangs are also top notch.
Ethan Daniel Corbett as Riff
Alexander's choreography, especially the dance mix in the gymnasium and the rumble are superlative. And the staging in the round with Jets and Sharks making entrances and exits through the aisles and around the back rows of seats is fantastic with razor sharp speed. Danny Michael's dark scenic design is simple and effective as are Lori Lee Jacobson's 50s costumes.
This is a highly honed representation for both fans of the stage version and for those first-timers, familiar only with the ten time Academy Award-winning 1961 film. It puts GCT at an all-time high. Don't miss it!