West Side Story is brought to Ogden audiences by the Ziegfeld Theater. With the writing of Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, West Side Story follows Tony and Maria (Modern analogues of Romeo and Juliet) as they fall in love despite the gang rivalry that tries to keep them apart. The Sharks, a Puerto Rican gang, and The Jets, whose family lines aren’t far removed from immigration themselves, clash over a turf war in New York City.
Before the first refrain of the overture, the set is in full view, complete with water tower, scaffolding and posts carrying disembodied windows backed by the black panels of the wings of the stage. This gives the illusion of a solid building that can easily melt away as the dance numbers get bigger or the scene changes. It makes for very effective use of the smaller stage of the Ziegfeld Theater. The scaffolding and metal stair case used in many of the dance numbers, often while people are dancing and singing atop it, also gives variety and makes even better use of the vertical as well as horizontal space.
Morgan Parry’s Stage direction combined with the choreography of Talese Hunt keep the action and emotion moving. The beatnik slang in Arthur Laurents’ book can be difficult to articulate naturally, due to its use of double rhymes and nonsense words, but the cast’s commitment to the rhythm and pace of it makes it flow and seem natural. The dancing was well rehearsed and emotional, a must do for this production as it tells the story as much as the music and text. The fight scenes were especially powerful, and, at times, you could worry that one or more of the punches had truly landed.
The bold colors of the lighting design combined with the set and costumes will make those who see it nostalgic of watching the movie musical in its original Technicolor. Moments of sound imbalance and an awkward pause in one moment of a forgotten line do little to mar the performance.
The wide-eyed, unsophisticated freshness of Tyler Brignone’s Tony combined well with Brittany Shamy’s innocent Maria. Their scenes, particularly the famous Balcony Scene (for this telling it is, of course, a fire escape), was a step into the world of young love for the audience.
Of particular excellence was Jaime Fuentes in the role of Bernardo, Maria’s Brother. Intimidating and defiant was the leader of the Sharks before he even said his first lines and a skilled dancer as well. He also carried the suave charm often associated with a romantic Latin character.
Also of note is Action played by Joshua Samuel Robinson. Robinson’s vocal extremes and strong body language sold not only the depth of his character’s prejudice but of a life made hard by growing up on the streets.
I enjoy attending concerts and seeing shows, and I go in to each one with the expectation and belief that it will be entertaining, so with that attitude, I can usually find something that I enjoy. In this case, those expectations were not only met but exceeded. I found myself moved by the music, the singing, the story and the telling of it.
West Side Story plays at The Ziegfeld Theater on Fridays and Saturdays until June 27th at 7:30 p.m. with matinee performances Saturday, June 20 and 27 at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $17 to $19 (online price) and can be purchased at www.theziegfeldtheater.com.