Note: Entire Contents Copyright 2016 by Tony Annicone
Director Bob Richard takes Arthur Laurents well written script and makes it soar in the comic and dramatic moments. Just when you feel that your heart is going to break in two, the script has a comic moment to lighten it up. Bob casts these roles splendidly from top to bottom with the major roles to the minor ones. He is aided in this huge endeavor by musical director, Milton Granger and his wife and choreographer, Diane Laurenson. Milton conducts a ten piece orchestra, making the music stand out in the ballads and up tempo numbers with his attention to annunciation and vocal training. The lush score is rendered excellently by the musicians and performers. The most difficult vocal number is the Quintet version of "Tonight" and he has the Sharks, the Jets, Tony, Maria and Anita pull it off without a hitch. One of the major aspects of this show is the choreography and it is outstanding. Diane has this cast dance their shoes off with many different styles of dances from mambo to salsa to jazz to ballet just to name a few. Diane has them execute the steps in perfect unison especially impressive are the astounding leaps in the air of the male dancers. Her expertise is seen in "Prologue", "Dance at the Gym" which stops the show, "Cool" with the men doing amazing splits during it, "America" by the girls and the breathtaking ballet to "Somewhere" sung by Bronson as Tony and Evy as Maria with their phenomenal voices. Another outstanding sequence is the Rumble leading to the death of two of the major characters. The mixture of movements and the direction of this fight at the end of Act 1 leaves the audience in shock but anticipating more good things to follow. The tear jerking final moment as the two gangs unite to carry Tony's body offstage together brings a hopeful sign that through understanding and human compassion for each other that there is a light at the end of a dark tunnel. The blending of these three elements plus a multitalented cast, make this must see show of the autumn season. There isn't a dry eye in the house at the close of this stupendous blockbuster musical.
The two leading players are both triple threat performers. Tall, dark and handsome Bronson Norris Murphy makes Tony a strong hero that the audience can relate to from his very first entrance. Tony's first number is usually a throw away song but Bronson makes it as impressive and potent as the better known numbers, "Maria" and "Tonight." His phenomenal tenor voice soars off the charts with every note as clear as the other especially impressive is his falsetto at the end of "Maria" which sends chills up your spine. His acting prowess shines through with Tony's many transitions from 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 very believable. I last reviewed Bronson as Tony at Theatre by the Sea this past July and his voice and deeper interpretation of the role have grown by leaps and bounds. Gorgeous brunette Evy Ortiz is Bronson's equal in every way. She makes Maria into a heroine with a backbone who stands up for what she believes in. Evy has a perfect strong crystal clear soprano voice that entrances you all night long. From her first scene in the dress shop, she displays Maria's spunkiness and both of them have marvelous chemistry together. This ingredient makes you empathize with the young lovers plight all night long especially in Tony's death scene. Her yelling at the crowd to shoot her is brilliantly portrayed and frightening especially with all the shooting around the United States which makes this very relevant to contemporary audiences. Their duets are breathtaking especially the romantic fire escape duet "Tonight" and the tender and emotional "One Hand, One Heart" and the astounding, gut wrenching "Somewhere." This number starts with the idealistic view of everyone getting along and disintegrates into the nightmare of Riff and Bernardo killing each other again. Bronson and Evy capture the naivete of Tony and Maria, making the audience remember their first love. Evy also displays Maria's comic side in "I Feel Pretty" with the girls before the horror of her brother's death becomes apparent. Bravo and Brava!
The two leads are strongly supported by the other cast members. The dancing in this show is phenomenal by one and all. Gang leaders, Riff played by Tyler John Logan Bernardo played by Alexander Gil Cruz are excellently cast. Both deliver fantastic performances especially in the confrontation scene and the fight to the death sequence. This scene is handled expertly and realistically in its presentation. Tyler does a splendid job in "The Jet" song with his gang members and in the "Cool" number where he exerts control over them especially the hot headed Action. The dancing in this scene is outstanding. Tyler and Bronson portray the best friends who are closer than brothers. Alexander is fabulous as Bernardo with his swagger and his snarl at the Jets and oozing charm with his girlfriend. His dancing prowess is out of this world especially in "Dance at the Gym" and in the Rumble. I first reviewed Alexander as Paul in "A Chorus Line" in 2010 and he has grown more mature and sure of himself as a triple threat performer. Beautiful brunette bombshell, Michelle Alves plays Anita, the spitfire girlfriend of Bernardo. She is perfect in this role, a strong actress with a powerful voice which sells the comic "America" and my favorite dramatic song "A Boy Like That" duet with Maria. Her hurt and anguish is wonderfully portrayed in this number and in the assault scene. After Anita is attacked by the Jets, she tells them Maria is dead. They have become as depraved characters as they just sang about in the comic "Officer Krupke" number. Michelle delivers a powerful performance as she leaves the stage in triumph over the hoodlums.
The usually underwritten roles of the adults are handled with conviction by John Wojda as the tough as nails, Lt. Schrank, Brian Padgett as the wimpy, Glad Hand, Rob Coughlan as the comic Officer Krupke and David Coffee as one of the best Doc's I've ever seen as he gives the kids hell for their terrible treatment of Anita and by slapping Tony into reality when he tells him that Maria is dead. This is David's 52nd production at NSMT and his 53rd will be "A Christmas Carol" in December. The fantastic Jet's are Bentley Black as the hot headed Action who fits the character to a tee in the comic gem of a number "Officer Krupke", Josh Zacher as Baby John, the young naive gang member who sings the female social worker hilariously, Christopher Morrissey as Diesel who sings the judge part, Erik Joshua Clack who is terrific as Snowboy who wears horn rimmed glasses and sings the Krupke number while battering Action's head with a rubber bat, PJ Palmer as Arab who plays the German shrink, Tim McGarrigal as Big Deal who wears a hat all the time and last but not least is Hannah Balagot as Anybodys who plays the role with a lot of grit and heart. DJ Petrosino does a marvelous job as the shy Chino who turns into a cold blooded killer. A word of praise for the splendid ballet in "Somewhere" lead by recent URI graduate Diego Guevara who I first reviewed as Bernardo at LaSalle High School back in 2012. So for a magnificent rendition of this classic musical, be sure to catch it at North Shore Music Theatre before time runs out. Run do not walk to the box office to catch this show. Tell them Tony sent you.