“West Side Story” Rumbles On Palm Canyon Stage

Jack Lyons Theatre & Film Critic

It’s always a good sign when a theatre has a sold out house on opening night.  There was no doubt whatsoever that the audience at the Palm Canyon Theatre got their money’s worth and more, last Friday.  When you combine the genius of:  music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by Arthur Laurents (with a giant assist from William Shakespeare), and inspiration by original stage director Jerome Robbins, you have a recipe for success which PCT’s  director Steve Fisher borrows and then infuses into his talented cast.

“West Side Story” burst onto the Broadway stage in 1957 running for almost 800 performances, and was successfully made into a movie in 1962 with Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer playing the star-crossed lovers Tony and Maria.   Ironically, in the movie version neither of the young actors sang their own songs.   However, the Broadway production made musical theatre stars of Larry Kert and Carole Lawrence for their Tony and Maria portrayals.

The timeless story of young lovers Tony (nicely played and wonderfully sung by Anthony Nannini) and Maria (Chloe Marcotte, the beautiful young soprano with a lovely range), is freely adapted from Shakespeare’s 16th century tale of Romeo and Juliet.  The story follows the Bard’s model except the story is now set in New York’s upper west side during the 1950’s.  It’s a time of rival gangs – Puerto Ricans (Sharks) and white ethnics (Jets) who cruise each other’s territory in an effort to establish supremacy over the neighborhood.

Tony, a former leader of the Jets meets and falls in love with Maria, the sister of Bernardo, the leader of the Sharks, at a high school neighborhood dance.  Each faction has its members who are eager to pick fights.  When the two rival gangs finally agree to a ‘rumble’ (an all out fight) Tony, who has been secretly meeting Maria unintentionally kills her brother Bernardo while defending Riff (Eric Bradley) his best friend.  This sets the story of romance on its inevitable star-crossed and fatal journey.

Director Fisher has wisely allowed his young and athletic performers free rein in creating exciting dance and powerful acting moments.   There so many songs from the pens of Bernstein and Sondheim that came from this show.  The anticipation in “Something’s Coming” by Tony beautifully sets up the audience for what is to follow.  The haunting love song “Maria”, almost spiritual in tone, takes everyone back to their youth and first loves.  “America”, sung by Anita (a fiery but compassionate Allegra Angelo) and the Puerto Rican girl friends of Maria, is a very clever riff on the differences of living in Puerto Rico vs. the shores of New York city (Ah, those clever and brilliant lyrics from Sondheim), while the now classic “Tonight” sung by Tony and Maria is a wonderful Act One closing number.

The Ballet Sequence, in Act Two, and the haunting “Somewhere”, by Maria, along with the “Procession and Nightmare” number are cleverly staged and dreamily executed by the company.  However not all the songs are dreamy or dramatic by a long shot. The “Gee, Officer Krupke” spot sung by the Jets is an appropriate bawdy poke-in-the-eye song.   Director Fisher and choreographer Se Layne have very cleverly orchestrated the energy and talent of each cast member to maximize the overall impact of this energetic production.

With 30 in the cast it’s difficult to list them all but there are performances that standout.   Anthony Nannini as Tony and Chloe Marcotte as Maria, have both captured the essence of their roles and have excellent onstage chemistry.  Allegra Angelo as Anita, has the right bite, sass, and compassion as Maria’s confidante.  Eric Bradley’s Riff, leader of the Jets, and Daryl Roth’s Bernardo, leader of the Sharks, perform their roles with conviction, power and grace, and Andrea Bellato as Anybodys, brings lots of energy to her ‘I want-to-be-one-of-the-boys’ role.

In the technical department, the choreography of Se Layne shows off the raw energy and power of both male and female dancers to their best advantage.  The set design by resident designer-wizard JW Layne faithfully recreates an upper west side neighborhood that provides room for the dancing and fighting, both of which are creatively staged and effectively performed.   Musical Director David McLaughlin, has selected some of the best tracks in matching the cast to the music, and Stuart A. Fabel’s lighting design lends the right mood to the overall production.

“West Side Story” at the Palm Canyon Theatre, is an exciting and entertaining evening of theatre.  For ticket information and reservations call 760- 323-5123.

 

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