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THEATRE REVIEW

july 2016 | volume 145

 

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  Photographer: Tim Matheson

WEST SIDE STORY
Book by Arthur Laurents
Music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Theatre Under the Stars
Malkin Bowl, Stanley Park
July 13-Aug. 26
$30-$45
www.tuts.ca/tickets or 1-877-840-0457
 BUY TICKETS

 

I’ve long considered West Side Story the greatest musical ever, and nothing in Sarah Rodgers’ stirring Theatre Under the Stars production has changed my mind about that. But none of the many stagings I’ve seen before this one has seemed so relevant to current American life. Racism and immigration, relations between police and young men of colour, gun violence—everything in this 59-year-old play feels contemporary. And the story, music, lyrics and choreographic concept have lost none of their brilliant shine.

The young TUTS company with only a sprinkling of professionals handles this iconic material beautifully. With a cast of 34 supported by a 17-piece orchestra, it’s a beast of a show. But under the guidance of director Rodgers, musical director Chris King (who does a fine job doubling as the racist cop Schrank) and choreographer Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg, it cruises along. There’s not a bad number nor a bad performance. And when called for, everyone steps up to hit the grace notes, which are many.

There’s very nice chemistry, romantic and musical, between the show’s Romeo and Juliet, Tony (Matt Montgomery) and Maria (Jennifer Gillis), from the moment they find each other in excruciating slow motion across the dance floor. Montgomery delivers a creditable “Something’s Coming”—you believe that Tony really believes it—a lovely “Maria,” and their duet, “Tonight,” is thrilling, driven by Gillis’ operatic soprano. The acting is also solid. Maria’s grief when she learns that Tony killed her brother is rendered realistically horrifying by Gillis.

The ensemble numbers are even better. Alexandra Lainfiesta (Anita) and Sabrina Miniaci (Rosalia) lead the Puerto Rican girls in a knockout version of “America.” (If you want evidence of Stephen Sondheim’s genius, just listen to those lyrics—and West Side Story was his first show!) Daniel James White (Riff) and his Jets do a very coolly choreographed “Cool,” and the spectacular musical counterpoint just before the two gangs rumble is performed with aplomb. Good work, too, from White and Alen Dominguez (Bernardo) as the gang leaders victimized by their own violence (their fight vividly choreographed by Derek Metz).

The second act features some premium collaborations. Rodgers stages a gorgeous version of “Somewhere,” sung by 9-year-old Aunjali Panju accompanying a series of haunting pas de deux, as Friedenberg riffs on Jerome Robbins’ original choreography. The death of Tony is also beautifully choreographed and directed. But the highlight of the act for me is the Jets’ “Officer Krupke.” This is as smart and entertaining as musical theatre gets, Laurents and Sondheim showcasing postwar America’s sociological and psychological take on juvenile delinquency and the teenager to Leonard Bernstein’s rollicking music.

TUTS delivers its usual good-looking presentation: Brian Ball’s highly functional, movable metal scaffolding set suggests New York apartment buildings, Chris Sinosich’s understated costumes nicely reflect ‘50s streetwear, and Gerald King’s lighting is inconspicuously effective.

Great stuff—and all outdoors in beautiful Stanley Park.

Jerry Wasserman

 

 

 

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Vancouver's arts and culture website providing theatre news, previews and reviews

 

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