Turtle Lane's current show is the classic 1957 musical "West Side Story". Based on Shakespeare's "Romeo & Juliet", the story is as fresh and meaningful to contemporary audiences as it was in 1591 for the original play as well as in the 1950's. The 1961 film version won 10 Academy Awards including best movie of the year. Hatred and violence can't solve problems they create new ones while love and understanding are the solutions in real life as they are in both shows. The well known story of the star-crossed lovers, Tony and Maria takes place in New York City. The outside forces of friends, enemies, gang members and adults keep them from fulfilling their dreams of everlasting happiness due to hatred and bigotry. The 25 member cast under the insightful direction of Julia Fiske, delivers the goods in a powerful and moving presentation with outstanding acting, singing and dancing which propels the audience to their feet at curtain call. Who could ask for anything more in one of the best shows at this theatre!
Director Julia Fiske takes Arthur Laurents well written script and makes it soar in both the tragic and comic aspects of the show. Just when you feel your heart is about to break in half, the script has a comic moment to lighten things up. Julia casts the show splendidly from the major roles to the minor ones. She is aided in this huge undertaking by music director Dan Rodriguez his eight piece orchestra with him on the lead keyboard. He makes the music stand out in the ballads and in the upbeat numbers. The Bernstein and Sondheim score is rendered beautifully by the musicians and the vocalists. Dan's attention to diction and vocal training shines through with the lyrics clearly annunciated by the cast. The most difficult number is the "Tonight" quintet and he has the Sharks, Jets, Anita, Tony and Maria pull it off with ease. One of the most important parts of this show is the choreography and the audience isn't disappointed here either. Choreographer Rachel Bertone makes this cast dance its feet off with ballet, jazz and modern dance with the mambo, salsa among them. Her dancing expertise is seen in "Prologue", "Dance at the Gym", "Cool", "America" and the breathtaking "Somewhere" ballet which is reminiscent of the Dream Ballet in "Oklahoma" and is sung by 10th grade student Alluson O'Malley with her magnificent soprano voice. Another standout sequence is the choreographed "Rumble" leading to the death of two of the characters. The mixture of the movements and direction of the fight at the end of Act 1 leaves the audience stunned but begging for more good things to follow. Rachel's choreography is an outstanding part of this classic show. The blending of these three elements as well as a talented cast make this a must see show.
Matt Torrance makes Tony a strong hero you can relate to from the first time you see him onstage. Tony's first number is usually a throw away song since it isn't as well known as the others. Matt makes "Something's Coming" just as important as "Maria" and "Tonight". His majestic tenor voice reaches to the top of the scale with every note as clear and strong as the other. His falsetto at the end of "Maria" sends chills up your spine and "Tonight" is topnotch, too. Matt's acting is superb with the love at first sight, the ensuing exuberant pure love, the horror of killing someone, the anguish of thinking your loved one is dead and finally making your own death onstage believable. I first reviewed Matt in "Miss Saigon" in 2007 and he gets better with every new performance I've seen him in. Alaina Fragoso as Maria is Matt's equal in every way. From her first scene in the dress shop she shows the spunkiness of Maria. Alaina makes Maria, a strong character who stands up for what she believes in. The helps to make the character more alive and better understood to the audience than the wimpy ones of the past. Alaina has a gorgeous soprano voice which soars to the heights. She and Matt have such terrific chemistry together so you cry with her when Tony is killed. Their duets are splendid especially the fire escape duet "Tonight" where the capture the naivete of Tony and Maria, making everyone remember their first love and the pledging of themselves to each other in "One Hand, One Heart" and in "Somewhere" so they can escape the tragedy of the rumble which leads into the breathtaking ballet. Alaina and the girls have fun in "I Feel Pretty" which shows she can handle comic moments, too. I last reviewed Alaina as Wendla in "Spring Awakening."
The two leads are strongly supported by the other cast members. Gang leaders Riff played by Alex Nemiroski and Bernardo played by Cristhian Mancinas Garcia are wonderfully cast. Both deliver strong performances especially in the confrontation scenes and the fight scene leading ultimately to their deaths. This scene is handled beautifully and is believable to the audience in its realistic presentation. Alex does an awesome job in "The Jet Song" with his gang members and in "Cool" where he exerts control over them especially hotheaded Action who is always itching for a fight. Alex and Matt also portray the best friends as close as brothers relationship with their credo from "Womb to Tomb". Alex is one of the best dancers I have seen portray Riff. Cristhian shows his dancing expertise in the Dance at the Gym and the rumble. He and the Sharks also get to show off their voices and dancing skills in "America". Anita is played by Ianthe Marini. She brings the spitfire girlfriend of Bernardo come to life with her topnotch portrayal. Ianthe handles the comic "America" song and dance with the girls, Bernardo and the boys. My favorite song is the dramatic "A Boy Like That"/ "I Have a Love" duet with Maria. "When Love comes so strong, there is no right or wrong'' are Sondheim's powerful lyrics. Anita's anguish, hurt and anger are displayed perfectly in "A Boy Like That" as well as in the final drugstore scene where the Jets turn into the depraved characters they just sang about in "Office Krupke". This song is the comic gem of this show with the Jets in perpetual motion during it. After Anita is attacked in the drugstore, she turns on them, showing her strength by telling them Maria is dead. Ianthe delivers a gut wrenching moment as she leaves the stage in triumph over the hoodlums. She also sings and dances up a storm throughout the show.
The usually underwritten adult roles are delivered with the right amount of conviction by Brad Walters who plays the hard-ass cop, Lt. Shrank, Jordan Greeley as the foppish school teacher Glad Hand, Michael Barry as Officer Krupke and Bruce Kaye as Doc, the weak drugstore owner who finally develops a backbone by throwing the gang out after they attack Anita and slaps Tony into reality when he tells him Maria is dead. The Jets deliver fantastic singing and dancing. The Jets are played by Matt Phillipps as Action who scares the audience with his intensity and angry outbursts. He uses his topnotch voice, singing the lead in "Officer Krupke" which stops the show with its hilarity. Caleb Dane Horst plays Baby John, the youngest gang member and uses a falsetto voice as the female social worker, Jared Green plays A-rab the German shrink, David Gerrie as Diesel who plays Officer Krupke in the song, Zach Green as SnowBoy who plays the judge and Johanna Recko as Anybodys, the tomboy who rescues Tony after the rumble. She gets to show off her dancing skills in the ballet. The Sharks are as impressive as the Jets in their singing and dancing. The shy Chino who turns into a cold-blooded killer by the end of the show is played wonderfully by Austin Auh. The impressive set is by Brian Melcher while the authentic 1950's costumes are by Richard Itczak. Stage manger Harry Rothman keeps the scene changes flowing perfectly, keeping the right pacing of the show.So for a superb rendition of this classic show, run to the Turtle Lane box office before the tickets are all sold out. Tell them Tony sent you.