Reviewed by Tony Annicone
The Bristol Theatre Company's summer show is the classic 1957 musical, "West Side Story". Based on "Romeo and Juliet", this story is as meaningful to contemporary audiences as it was in 1591 and 1957. Hatred and violence don't solve problems, they create new ones. Love and understanding is the solution in both shows and in real life, too. This 33 member cast with insightful direction by Greg Geer delivers the goods with strong acting, singing and dancing, propeling the audience to their feet at show's end.
Director Geer takes the well written script and makes the tragic and comic moments blend perfectly with his talented cast. He casts the roles wonderfully from the leading characters to the minor ones. Mr. geer pays attention to the Spanish accents and they are maintained throughout the show. He is assisted in this task by music director, Owen Hartnett, a junior at Indiana University, and his orchestra. The difficult Bernstein and Sondheim score is rendered with ease by musicians and vocalists. Owen not only conducts the orchestra but plays the piano at the same time. The music is gorgeous and helps set the mood for varying scenes. Owen's attention to diction is shown throughout the evening and is most apparent in the "Tonight " quintet, one of the hardest vocal numbers in this production. Another important part is the choreography by Garance Nienhuis with Craig Handel doing the rumble choreography. The mixture of ballet, jazz and modern dance steps in various numbers especially the "Prologue", dance at the gym, "America", "Cool", (a lot of pelvic thrusts and beatnik movement)and the breathtaking, "Somewhere". (Everyone is in white costumes except Tony and Maria.The couples dance together, creating an ideal world where everyone gets along until Riff and Bernardo enter causing the spell of this dream to end. The emotional singing of the soloist in this song invokes many tears from the crowd.) Another standout moment is "The Rumble" with the death of two of the characters. The mixture of movements and the acting by the cast in this fight sequence stuns the audience and leaves them looking forward to more good things in the second act. These three ingredients are what makes the shhow the success it is.
Tim Grant and Kara Manchester as Tony and Maria have superb singing voices and they make you root for the young lovers to win against the hatred and bigotry of the people around them. They deliver the excitement in "Tonight" and the necessary tenderness in "One Hand, One Heart". Tim makes the love at first sight in the "Maria" song and the horror at killing another person shine through in his performance. He also shows the anguish of thinking your loved one is dead and making his anger and despair come through in wanting to be killed, too. Tim makes the death scene realistic and is a very poignant moment of the evening. Kara is wonderful as a Maria with a backbone. She delivers her lines and songs with gusto especially "I Feel Pretty". The best part is her delivery of her lines to the crowd after Tony's death. She makes everyone realize their foolish and destructive behavior, has destroyed many lives forever. Kara is fantastic and she brings the show to its proper close with the audience in tears. Both these young leads sparkle in their roles and have bright futures ahead of them.
These two leads are strongly supported by the other 31 performers. Nicole Morris plays Anita, the seductive, spitfire girlfriend of Bernardo.(Maria's brother) She handles the comic "America" song with the girls and the dramatic, "A Boy Like That" duet with Maria perfectly. Nicole and Kara maintain their accents in their songs, too. Nicole's anguish, hurt and anger are displayed in that song as well as in the assault scene in the drugstore. Anita is attacked by the Jets but she turns the tables on them by saying Maria is dead. Nicole shows strength in her delivery and leaves the stage in triumph over the hoodlums. She also sings and dances up a storm throughout the evening, too.
Two other outstanding performers are the two gang leaders, Riff (Donald Dallaire) and Bernardo (Derek Ferreira). These two actors are dynamite in their roles portraying the angry young men of the 1950's. Not only can they act but they sing and dance excellently, too. Donald handles the "Jet Song" and "Cool" (where he exerts his control over his hotheaded gang members) wonderfully. He and Derek make their knife fight realistic and frightening, doing their jobs extemely well. Derek has wonderful chemistry with Nicole as Anita in the romantic scenes but he also shows the character's strength while ruling his gang in the various fight scenes. Great job by two talented actors.
The talented Jet gang members are Don Ringuette(Action) who gets to sing the funniest song in the show, "Officer Krupke" with the gang members dancing about and finally realizing they're depraived. (This foreshadows their terrible behavior in the drugstore scene.) Stephen Pare, (Baby John) the young naive gang member (who sings the female social worker in the Krupke song hysterically and shows he is a fine young actor)Brian Lopes,(Diesel) the strongest gang member (who sings the judge's role in the song) Aaron Aguair,( A-rab) the gang member with the most lines and delivered very well (who sings the shrink role in the song) Alexandr Drogobetski (Snowboy) Johnathan Carlos (Big Deal) and last but not least the feisty, Anybodys played by Elise Arsenault. She helps Tony escape the first time and shows a lot grit and heart in the role of the tomboy want to be gang member.
The Sharks are impressive in their singing and dancing, too. The shy Chino who turns into a maddog killer is played by Kiernan Hartnet. His transition is handled beautifully. The other Sharks are Timothy Sweeney, Christopher Gempp, Corey Girard, Ian Richardson, Chris O'Donnell and James Osman. The 4 adult roles are played by Jim Manchester as the hardass police detective, the comic Officer Krupke played by Michael Williams, the well meaning kindly, Doc played bu Ed Carusi and the foppish Glad Hand played by John Paul Fernandes. Rounding out the cast are the singing and dancing girlfriends of the Jets and Sharks, Ali Angelone, Nicole Labonte, Leslie Racine Vazquez, Ashley Hewitt, majorie Hope Hammond, Amie Aguair, Amy Palmieri, Jennifer Salcone, Amanda Cook and Beckie Peel.
Added praise to the wonderful set which is moved on and off easily, keeping the action moving, to the beautiful and colorful 50's costumes and the realistic make-up for the fight segments. Kudos to everyone who makes WEST SIDE STORYinto the wonderful show it is.