BWW Reviews: WEST SIDE STORY at Music Theatre Wichita Shooting Sparks into Space

BWW Reviews: WEST SIDE STORY at Music Theatre Wichita Shooting Sparks into Space

West Side Story came to a triumphant close last night at Century II. Music Theatre Wichita produced another hit in the 2014 season. An exciting, devastating celebration of the human condition, compassion and consequence.

West Side Story is based on a concept by Jerome Robbins, the choreographer and director of the original 1957 Broadway production. With a book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by a little-known newbie by the name of Stephen Sondheim, West Side Story quickly became an iconic modern musical. Songs like "Something's Coming", "Maria", "Tonight", "Somewhere" and "One Hand, One Heart" have become permanent fixtures in the American songbook.

Director Mark Madama and choreographer Mark Esposito captured the magic at the heart of West Side Story, but put a significant and fresh stamp on the production. The choreography was sharp and powerful, turning the dancers from artists, to athletes to acrobats. The scene at the gym was a particularly infectious scene, capturing a full range of emotion. Madama's direction found the humor and humanity so often overlooked. However, the "Somewhere Ballet" was, generally, inspired and majestic, but occasionally felt awkward and clunky, and I don't think it was an artistic choice.

The costumes by Dixon Reynolds, were questionable. Why was Maria wearing her work apron on the balcony? And was that Captain Kirk I saw amongst the Jets in his trademark mustard colored mock turtleneck? The sets, by Robert Andrew Kovach, were angular and industrial, ideal for the urban west side of Manhattan, but the upstage wall of the stage hosted projections which didn't jive with the vibe of the 1950s. It seems much too modern to be in sync with the tone of West Side Story.

Ryan Vasquez played Tony, and it was abundantly clear why Maria would fall in love with him at first sight. The role of Tony was written for Vasquez. He was unassuming, vulnerable and honest. His voice was soaring, flawless and effortless. I look forward to the next show in MTW's season, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, where he will be playing the Pharaoh. Halli Toland as Graziella and Shea Renne as Rosalia were exceptional. Though their roles were small, it was impossible not to watch them. There must be something in the water at University of Michigan.

The adults of West Side Story were loveable, ineffectual buffoons. Timothy W. Robu as Lt Shrank, J. Bailey Burcham as Krupke, Paul E. Jackson as Glad Hand and Charles Parker as Doc were memorable and bumbling, regardless of the sad irony surrounding their characters.

West Side Story was wonderful. "Cool" was hot and "Tonight" was much too short. Even the curtain call was pristine. The audience gave an immediate and enthusiastic standing ovation. If West Side Story is any indication of the quality the rest of the season has in store, invest in your tickets now.

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The Jets, led by Riff (Kevin Munhall) do their best to keep "Cool" in "West Side Story" at Music Theatre Wichita. Photo courtesy of Christopher Clark.

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