Theatre Mirror Reviews - "West Side Story"

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note: entire contents copyright 2006 by Larry Stark


"West Side Story"

Based on a Conception by Jerome Robbins
Book by Arthur Laurents
Music And Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim & Leonard Bernstein

Stage Direction by Nancy Curran Willis
Musical Direction by David L. Rose
Choreography by Jennifer Condon

Set Design by Jim Lynch
Lighting Design by Michael Condon
Costume Design by Cyne Marsden-Williams
Sound Design by Kent Larson
Makeup & Hair Design by Liz Bruce
Properties Coordinator Teri MullerBR> Sharks & Jets Logos Designed by Daniel Rabone
Dance Captain Leah Fine
Orchestra Manager Kathleen Rose
Production Managers Susan Harrington & Marsha Jackson
Assistant Stage Managers Mary French, Judy Weinberg
Stage Manager Judy Forgione

Tony.....................Brent Reno
Maria.............Mala Bhattacharya
Anita.................Melinda Mogel
Bernardo................Eli Hannuna
Riff.....................Josh Nunes
Action.................Justin Dilly
Chino.................Brian Ballard
Diesel...................Jim Jordan
Baby John..............Ronny Pompeo
Anybodys...............Emma Boroson
Pepe.........Herve Tennessee/Petion
A-rab...................Dan Gelinas
Indio......................Sujoy De
Snow Baby...........Michael O'Brien
Luis...............Christano Gaudiz
Big Deal................Brian Toney
Juana.................Andrew Mackay
Rosalia.............Jennifer Powers
Graziella...........Sara Consentino
Consuela..................Leah Fine
Velma..................Katie Taylor
Francesca............Colette Gagnon
Clarice...............Anne Olmstead
Doc.....................Ben Brenner
Lt. Shrank............Phil Thompson
Glad Hand..............David Fisher
Officer Krupke...Michael Miles Hyde

The program note reads:

SETTING
The West Side of New York
during the last days of summer
...not "during the last days of the 1950's"
It takes courage to tear into a great, familiar classic looking for resonant contemporary truth --- but The Arlington Friends of The Drama is a community theater famous for its willingness to take artistic risks. And it takes insight, intelligence and imagination to tear out the old cliches and find the brutal and the heartbreaking truths that make a classic new again, but Nancy Curran Willis and Jennifer Condon and David L. Rose are brave enough to try. And then it takes talent and dedication to try something new, and there are 27 gifted people in the cast of "West Side Story" eager to do exactly that. And all that makes unforgettable theater...

On Jim Lynch's tiny but fluid set, a bunch of punks squabble over a couple blocks of "turf" with nothing but the tones of their skin and their accents separating one punk from another. Invaders and defenders insist "Well, THEY began it!" but macho knows no race --- it only knows pride and power, not peace. And of course there's history here --- the Jets have had Three Long Years of hegemony, and now the Sharks are ready to rumble to re-define boundaries. The story is built on adolescent energies and pride --- an explosive mix of defensive agression and fear of humiliation. Can anything but disaster result?

The action depends on the adolescent's assurance that he can do anything, from destroying the adversary --- to stopping the war. And in the middle of this mad maelstrom stands Tony --- the founder of The Jets --- who is different. His job rather than his gang takes up most of his time, the childishness of turf-squabbles no longer excites him, but he honors his word even when someone else gave it, his mere presence commands authority --- and he's fallen in love! His Maria is new to America, new to independence, the ultimate innocent --- and she believes Tony can do Anything.

I have emphasized the plot here because the plot, the confrontation of idealism and innocence with macho destructiveness, is the soul of this production. Yes, the Sondheim/Bernstein score lifts that action to ecstatic heights, but everyone continues Acting, remains solidly in character and involved while singing --- and there's not a pirouette nor an arabesque to be seen anywhere. This is reality-driven dancing. It's engrossing, exciting theater.

This cast is a powerful ensemble every one of which from Josh Nunes and Eli Hannuna as Riff and Bernardo to Ben Brenner's defeated Doc and Phil Thompson's villainous Lt. Shrank is a live, meaningful individual --- but the show is structured with star-turns that must be mentioned. Brent Reno's Tony has a tremulous tenderness separating him from his gang, and Mala Bhattacharya's Maria is the essence of innocent youth --- totally contrasting with Melinda Mogel's tempestuous, passionate Anita. These and the gang-leaders define the action, while the rest --- including the "girls" on each side --- serve the action best by emerging only briefly from the all too faceless uniformity of the gangs that, equally, define the action. There are, literally, no small roles here.

This is a "West Side Story" for the new century, and I have never seen it done better. Everybody --- take a bow!

"West Side Story" (7 - 23 April)
ARLINGTON FRIENDS OF THE DRAMA
22 Academy Street, ARLINGTON MA
1(781)646-5922

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