West Side Story
July 26 – August 10, 2002
Reviewed August 2
Running Time 2 hours 30 minutes
Price range $7 - $9
There’s a cast of nearly 35, over 30 musicians in the pit, dozens of crew, half a dozen designers and a score of other contributors, not one over the age of 25. The Wildwood Summer Theatre, an all-youth organization operating without adult supervision (or interference), has produced major musicals every year since 1965. This year, for the second time, they take up a musical about boys and girls of their own age who are also involved in activities without adult supervision. But those activities are a great deal different than putting on a musical.
Storyline: This 1957 transformation of the Romeo and Juliet story to the streets of New York City sets an Italian American street gang (the Jets) against a Puerto Rican gang (the Sharks). Tony, the former leader of the Jets, who is growing up and trying to break out of the gang life by working in Doc’s drug store, meets Maria, the sister of the leader of the Sharks. Tony and Maria fall instantly in love and, at Maria’s urging, Tony tries to prevent a rumble between the two gangs. Things go wrong, however, and in the ensuing knife fight Tony ends up killing Maria’s brother. In the explosion of hatred and prejudice that results, Tony, too, is killed.
Nathan Claridad, a twenty year old director, is at the helm of this undertaking. He deploys the available talent with skill and keeps the evening moving right along. He also makes a significant change to the staging of the finale of the show which robs it of much of the hope for the future with which Robbins, Bernstein, Laurents and Sondheim imbued the original. Without that, the heartfelt beauty of "Somewhere," which is sung so well here by Wootton High School graduate Martita Galindo, seems a case of wishful thinking rather than a glimpse of a possible alternative future.
Eighteen year old William White conducts, getting a marvelous mixture of youthful enthusiasm and mature beauty from both the musicians in the orchestra and the singing performers on stage. The quintet of "Tonight" bouncing between the Jets, the Sharks, Tony, Maria, and three other young characters is about as tight and clean as can be wished, while the soaring duets of "One Hand, One Heart," "A Boy Like That/I Have A Love" and the exquisite balcony scene are lovely. The combination of clear stage direction from Claridad, tight musical direction by White, smooth vocal direction by Jennifer Bartlett and sharp performances by a number of Jets produces a marvelously balanced "Gee Officer Krupke."
Any West Side Story needs a Maria and a Tony that can carry both the musical and the emotional weight of the story. In Danny Pushkin and Leah Pappas, this West Side Story has a pair that can sing the roles well and act with assurance. However, there is little chemistry between them. Evelyn Ziberman makes a very strong Anita. But each of the vocal leads have to fight the phenomenon of a sound design that over-amplifies the few with body mikes. A hall this big may force the choice of sound reinforcement, and the sound board operator has a deft touch and manages to sneak the levels up smoothly. But a subtler mix is required when the cast isn’t universally miked. Two smaller roles standout: Courtney Tisch does well with a very well conceived role, that of the tomboy "Anybodys," while Andy Schlosberg makes a memorable impression with a role that usually falls flat, the non-singing tough cop Lt. Schrank.
Music by Leonard Bernstein. Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Book by Arthur Laurents. Entire original production directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins. Directed by Nathan Claridad. Choreographed by Lauren Beth DeRocco. Music direction by William White. Vocal direction by Jennifer Bartlett. Design: Jared Goldstein (set) Daniel Rehbehn (costumes) Joshua Rodgers (Hair and Makeup) Kevin Danielson (lights) Harry Glaser (sound). Cast: Danny Pushkin, Leah Pappas, Evelyn Ziberman, Adam Rast, Andre Danylevich, Courtney Tisch, Andy Schlosberg, Stephanie Lin, Kenneth Arcieri, Kevin O’Reilly, Michael Saffan, Daniel Rehbehn, Michael Simione, Roger Whyte, Yevgeniy Tyurmin, Helene Ford, Sarah Karp, Ashley Kaplan, Eileen Cuff, Chris Wilson, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Jonathan Gadsden, David Allen, Christian Liu, Rahul Kak, Liza Kaplan, Joellen Mallard, Taisha Cameron, Amelia Meyers, Danila Apasov, Harrison Long, Jonathan Schneider, Julia Clasper, Leigh Friedman, Owen McKain.
--From Potomac Stages