BWW Review: WEST SIDE STORY ~ Bravo to Michael Barnard's Majestic Production Of The Musical Classic

BWW Review: WEST SIDE STORY ~ Bravo to Michael Barnard's Majestic Production Of The Musical Classic

The brutal and timeless truth about unbridled tribalism is that only grief survives a grudge war. It leaves a trail of wounded souls and collateral damage. Even true love may not be strong enough to overcome the fortified walls of mindless bias. Ovid reflected the painful reality in the story of Pyramus and Thisbe's forbidden love. Shakespeare recounted it in Romeo and Juliet. Jerome Robbins seized on the concept, and Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim and Arthur Laurents realized his vision in the modern-day allegory of WEST SIDE STORY ~ as relevant today as it was in its 1950's incarnation.

With the echoes of this truth reverberating in today's culture, a parallel theme nags at the heart and soul of a nation: What is an American? What does it take to acknowledge that there is far more that unites us than divides us?

In Michael Barnard's majestic staging of this musical classic, the aspirational response to these questions is invoked with crystalline clarity and poignancy as the ensemble coalesces front and center to intone Somewhere. (Someday, Somewhere, We'll find a new way of living, We'll find a way of forgiving.) ~ even more poignant as the reverie dissolves into a reminder of the deadly battle that preceded the hymn.

The moment is reflective of the quality that permeates the entire production and further attests to Barnard's celebrated mastery of stagecraft and collaboration. Robert Kovach sets the stage in simple and elevated lines within which the action moves from New York's mean streets to his detailed conceptions of a bridal shop, a bedroom, a drug store, and back. Daniel Davisson accentuates the mood shifts with dramatic washes of light. Alan Ruch's robust musical direction is a reminder that Bernstein's music and Sondheim's lyrics are the invariable co-stars of the show. Patti Colombo's coordination and amplification of Robbins' original choreography is stellar, enhanced by a company that moves with seamless agility and energy.

Speaking of stars...James Gish and Joy Del Valle are captivating as Tony and Maria, the star-crossed lovers-at-first-sight. In fact, they are tremendous. The chemistry of the two is enhanced by their full and sonorous voices, angelic and sublime in tone and range. When they combine for Tonight or One Hand, One Heart, they leave no soul untouched, so honest and credible are their overall performances.

The counterweight to their romantic idealism is the streetwise and sassy Anita, portrayed with elegance and panache by the marvelous Alyssa Chiarello. She reveals a style that is as sexy and magnetic in her America face-off with the Sharks as it is heart-rending in her protection of her friend and her self-defense against rape by the Jets.

Barnard's production, like a well-weaved tapestry, is replete with a terrific ensemble and solid supporting performances by Eddie Maldonado (the macho Bernardo), Hal Adams (the racist Lt. Schrank), Tony Blosser (the officious Officer Krupke), Riley Glick (the wannabe Anybodys), and Terry Gadaire (Doc, the tenacious voice of the peacemaker).

Phoenix Theatre's production of WEST SIDE STORY (which runs through October 14th) is an auspicious beginning to the company's 99th Season, a reminder of the enduring relevance of the story, a timely opportunity to celebrate the Centennial of Leonard Bernstein's birth, and, above all, a momentous theatrical experience.

Photo credit to Reg Madison Photography

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From This Author Herbert Paine

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