note: entire contents copyright 2016 by Tony Annicone
Director Bob Richard takes Arthur Laurents well written script and makes it soar in both the comic and tragic aspects of this show. 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 the show marvelously from the major roles to the minor ones. He is aided in this huge undertaking by musical director Sam Bagala and his seven piece orchestra. He makes the music stand out in the ballads and the up tempo numbers with his attention to annunciation and vocal training. The Bernstein and Sondheim score is rendered excellently by the musicians and vocalists. The most difficult number is the "Tonight" quintet and he has the Sharks, the Jets, Tony, Maria and Anita pull it off without a hitch. One of the most important aspects of this show is the choreography and the audience isn't disappointed here either. Choreographer Diane Laurenson, who is Bob's wife, makes the cast dance their shoes off with ballet, modern, jazz dance with mambo and salsa to name a few. Her dancing expertise is displayed in "Prologue", "Dance at the Gym" which stops the show, "Cool", with the men doing amazing splits in it, "America" and the breathtaking ballet to "Somewhere" which is sung by Bronson and Evy with their strong voices. Another standout sequence is the choreographed "Rumble" leading to the death of two of the characters. The mixture of the movements and direction of this fight at the end of Act 1 leaves the audience stunned but begging for more good things to follow. Diane's choreography is an outstanding part of this classic show and the dancers perform them in perfect unison. The blending of these three elements plus a multitalented cast, make this the must see musical of the summer.
The two leading players are amazing performers. Tall, dark and handsome Bronson Norris Murphy makes Tony a strong hero that the audience can relate to from his first entrance onstage. Tony's first number is usually a throw away number since it isn't as well known as the others. Bronson makes "Something's Coming" just as impressive as "Maria" and "Tonight." His majestic tenor voice soars off the charts with every note as clear and as strong as the other especially impressive is his falsetto at the end of "Maria." Bronson's acting is superb with the love at first sight, the ensuing exuberant pure love, the horror at killing someone, the anguish of thinking your loved one is dead and finally making your own death on stage believable. I first reviewed Bronson in "Cats" at North Shore Music Theatre two years ago and this role is one more feather in his cap. Evy Ortiz as Maria is Bronson's equal in every way. From her first scene in the dress shop she displays the spunkiness of Maria. Evy makes Maria a strong character who stands up for what she believes in. This helps make the character more true to life than the wimpy ones of years ago. Evy has a gorgeous soprano voice which soars to the heights of perfection. She and Bronson have excellent chemistry together so you cry right along with her in the death scene. Her yelling at the others to kill her is astounding and frightening considering the recent shooting spree in Orlando, which makes the show very relevant to contemporary audiences. Their duets are terrific especially the fire escape duet "Tonight" and "One Hand, One Heart" which is tender and emotional and "Somewhere" which starts off with everyone getting along as they dance only it becomes a nightmare when Riff and Bernardo kill each other again. They 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" where she and the girls have fun together, singing and dancing.
The two leads are strongly supported by the other cast members. The dancing in this show is outstanding by one and all. Gang leaders, Riff played by Tyler John Logan and Bernardo played by Alexander Gil Cruz are excellently cast. Both deliver strong performances especially in the confrontation scenes and the fight scene leading to their deaths. This scene is handled splendidly in its realistic presentation. Tyler does a marvelous job in "The Jet" song with his gang members and in "Cool" when he exerts control over them especially hot headed Action who is always ready for a fight. Tyler and Bronson portray the best friends who are as close as brothers with their credo from "Tomb to Womb." Alexander as Bernardo displays his dancing prowess in Dance at the Gym and in the rumble. I first reviewed Alexander in 2010 when he played Paul in "A Chorus Line" for Studio Theatre Company. Statuesque, beautiful brunette, Dana Hunter plays the spitfire girlfriend of Bernardo, Anita perfectly. She is a strong actress with a terrific voice which sells the comic "America" where she and the girls dance up a storm and my favorite dramatic song "A Boy Like That" duet with Maria. Her hurt and anguish are displayed in this number and in the assault scene. After Anita is attacked by the Jets, she tells them Maria is dead. The Jets have become as depraved characters they just sang about in "Officer Krupe." Hunter delivers a powerhouse performance, leaving the stage in triumph over the hoodlums.
The usually underwritten roles of the adults are handled with the right amount of conviction by Joshua Christensen as Lt. Schrank, Dennis Keohane as Glad Hand, Jean Pierre Ferragamo as the hysterically funny Officer Krupe and Tom Gleadow as Doc, the weak drugstore owner who finally develops a backbone after the gang attacks Anita by throwing them out and then slapping Tony into reality when he tells him Maria is dead. The fantastic Jet members are Colin Lee as the hotheaded, Action who frightens the audience with his angry outbursts, (The hilarious "Officer Krupe" number is sung to him and fits his character to a tee.) Josh Zacher as Baby John, the young naive gang member (sings the female social worker hysterically), Christopher Morrissey as Diesel who sings the judge part, Colin Shea Denniston as Snowboy who plays Krupe in the song, Davis Wayne as Arab who plays the German shrink, Pedro Rangel as Big Deal who wears a hat and glasses and last but not least Hannah Balagot as Anybodys, who plays this role with a lot of grit and heart and helps Tony escape at the end of the Rumble. Eric B. Mota does a terrific job as the shy, Chino who later becomes a murderer after Tony kills Bernardo. He makes a great transition in this role. Added praise to scenic designer Kyle Dixon and praise also to costume designer David Costa Cabral and his multitude of 1950's costumes. So for a magnificent rendition of this classic musical, be sure to catch "West Side Story" at Theatre by the Sea before the run is sold out. Tell them Tony sent you.