July 22nd, 2016

wss cool knees by skybound2

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Theatre review: West Side Story has an electricity that is hard to resist

Theatre review: West Side Story has an electricity that is hard to resist

Shawn Conner

West Side Story remains a singularly American entertainment. Touching on issues of class, immigration and disaffected youth, it’s held a place in the musical theatre canon since its Broadway debut in 1957.

The material itself, from Leonard Bernstein’s neo-noir-ish music and Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics to Arthur Laurents’ book and Jerome Robbins choreography, is ironclad. The tale of the rivalry between the two gangs, the Sharks and the Jets, has become cultural shorthand for gang violence. The 1961 movie version, meanwhile, remains a groundbreaking, surreal mix of modern dance, stylized language, surreal cityscapes, and tragic Romeo-Juliet romance.

In the Theatre Under the Stars production now at Malkin Bowl (alternating with Disney’s Beauty and the Beast), Matt Montgomery gives an excellent performance as Tony. As the former Jets gang member who falls in love with the sister of the leader of the Sharks, Montgomery has his work cut out for him — singing and dancing while trying to unify the two gangs and woo the dark-haired Maria.

Alexandra Lainfiesta is also fine as Maria’s friend, the fiery Anita. The role of bland Maria (Natalie Wood in the 1961 movie version) is no gift to actresses, however Jennifer Gillis does well with the part even though her high voice can be a little distracting. Alen Dominguez as Bernardo and Daniel James White, leaders of the Sharks and the Jets respectively, also convincingly carry the action.
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