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Review: 'West Side Story' at Barrington Stage: Wow!
By Nancy Salz, Guest Column
11:00AM / Friday, August 10, 2018
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Will Branner plays Tony, who falls in love with Maria, played by Addie Morales in Barrington Stage Company's production of 'West Side Story.'(Photo by Daniel Rader)

Robert La Fosse choreographed 'West Side Story' at Barrington Stage.

Surely you know the song "Maria" from "West Side Story: "Maria, the most beautiful sound I ever heard, Maria. I've just met a girl named Maria ..." It has been recorded by Johnny Mathis, Dave Brubeck, Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras, to name just a few.

But you will never know the profound emotion in that song until you hear it sung by Tony, the character for whom it was written. And if the Tony happens to be young and a superb singer – as he is in the current, breathtaking Barrington Stage revival – only then can you appreciate the wonder and amazement of young, first love in its music and lyrics. I know every note and every word to that song, but I felt it as I never have before.

Barrington Stage has gone all out with this production. It has a cast of 27, and when they're all dancing, filling the stage with energy, grace and simply perfect body lines, I realized that even the latest Broadway revival in 2009 wasn't in the same league. The depth of talent is staggering.

Robert La Fosse, of both the New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre, reproduced the original Jerome Robbins choreography for this production. In spite of Julianne Boyd’s superb direction, the bulk of the credit for this West Side Story's success goes to La Fosse. He must have set high, stringent standards for the dancing and hired only dancers who could meet them. The big numbers like the prologue, the dance at the gym, "America," "Cool" and the "Somewhere" ballet were extremely well-rehearsed and well-executed.

"West Side Story" is, of course, "Romeo and Juliet" set in 1957 Manhattan. The white gang, the Jets, constantly confront their enemy, the Puerto Rican gang, the Sharks. And vice versa. They hate each other. When Tony (the excellent tall, baby-faced Will Branner) sings that "Something's Coming," he doesn’t yet know that he will soon meet Maria (Addie Morales, so pretty and with a voice the belies her youth) at the dance at the gym. She begs Tony to try to stop a rumble between the two gangs, but he cannot. What begins as a fair fight, ends up with Tony killing Bernardo (a very strong Sean Ewing), who is Maria's brother and a dead Jet leader, Riff (Tyler Haines, a big, muscled guy who can dance nonetheless).

It is Anita (a multi-talented Skyler Volpe) who tells Maria what Tony has done. But Maria loves him anyway. When Anita goes to a supposedly safe place where Tony is hiding at Maria's request, she is assaulted by the Jets. In revenge she lies to the Jets that Maria has been killed by Chino, who hopes to be Maria's boyfriend (a fine Alex Swift). When Tony learns of Maria's supposed death, he comes out in the open and screams for Chino to kill him, too. Chino does. Maria rushes to Tony's body and in her grief perhaps just momentarily unites the warring gangs as "Somewhere" is played in the background. That scene will make you cry. The sniffling was heard throughout the theater.

There are, thank goodness, moments of levity: The song "Gee, Officer Krupke," so brilliantly staged and sung with a terrific Juan Caballer as Action in the lead. And "America" sung by Anita and her Puerto Rican girlfriends. Even Maria's "I Feel Pretty" has a break of lightness and joy. And the girl Jets wannabe, Anybodys (a wonderful Hannah Balagot), adds humanity to that gang.

If you think that "West Side Story" is Leonard Bernstein's finest work – including Candide and all his classical composition – you wouldn't be alone. Those melodies! Those unmistakably Bernstein harmonies! They certainly weren't surpassed. The lyrics by a young Stephen Sondheim are profound and clever and true. Arthur Laurents is responsible for the excellent book.

Darren Cohen led an outstanding 12-piece orchestra. The scenery by Kristen Robinson and the costumes by Sara Jean Tosetti also worked very well. Ryan Winkles was responsible for choreographing the very believable and scary fight dances.

"West Side Story" makes a grand, grand-finale to a summer of spectacular musical presentations. "Hair" at the Berkshire Theatre Group ends this weekend. "Lempicka" at the Williamstown Theatre Festival has closed. But "West Side Story" runs through Sept. 1. Do see this exceptional show. Do not dawdle!  Call the box office at 413-236-8888 or visit the website.

Book by Arthur Laurents; Music by Leonard Bernstein; Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim; Entire original production directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins; Original choreography reproduced by Robert La Fosse; Directed by Julianne Boyd; Musical direction by Darren R. Cohen; Scenic Designer Kristen Robinson; Costume Designer Sara Jean Tosetti; Lighting Designer, David Lander; Sound Designer Matt Kraus.

Featuring Hannah Balagot, Danny Bevins, Will Branner, Juan Caballer, Julio Catano-Yee, Jerusha Cavazos, Kyle Coffman, Sarah Crane, Sean Ewing, Linedy Genao, Tamrin Goldberg, Jennifer Gruener, Tyler Hanes, Dylan Gabriel Hoffinger, Abbey Hunt, Kelly Loughran, Addie Morales,
Michael Pesko, Douglas Rees, Magdalena Rodriguez, Brandon Keith Rogers, Raynor Rubel, Antony Sanchez, Gordon Stanley, Alex Swift, Christopher Tucci, Skyler Volpe.


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