Joe Truskot, The Salinas Californian
Beginning with the Prologue and running through the Finale, 'West Side Story' as directed by The Western Stage's artistic director Jon Selover, has something wonderful for everyone. Evocative sets and costumes. Energetic performances. Well known songs. Beautifully choreographed dance numbers. It's these dances that are particularly enjoyable. Nothing compares to watching the coordinated movement of a large stage full of actors. They almost pull the audience onto the stage with them. It's a pleasant feeling unattainable on a TV or movie screen — no matter the size.
Music lovers are familiar with the Bernstein/Sondheim songs (Something's Coming, Maria, America, Tonight, I Feel Pretty, and many others.) and have heard everyone from José Carreras to the cast of 'Glee' offer renditions. The Western Stage cast delivers engaging and polished versions of the songs. Theater goers will need to show restraint not to hum along or at least shout "mambo." The plot is a version of Romeo and Juliet. So the drama ends sadly but the music is transcendant.
In fact, Don Dally's leadership in the orchestra pit is particularly effective. He marshals a bare minimum of musicians into delivering the maximum result. The musicians also give the audience a special, much appreciated treat by performing some music to exit the theater by ... sending us off with those great tunes in our heads.
Lorenzo Aragon and Christopher Villa deserve special recognition for creating terrific dances and fight scenes. It's a joy to see ensemble numbers sung and danced on a beautifully lit stage (Derek Durate). Act I is nearly 90 minutes long but just flies by. The ballet in Act II offers Bernstein's most complex music. He layers the familiar melodies one on top of the other and has the cast sing them simultaneously while they are moving about the stage. This is difficult material and it's well delivered.
Michael McDonald (Riff) captures your attention right at the start and holds on to it whenever he's on stage. Ezra Hernandez (Tony) and Tasha Tormey (Maria) both inhabit their roles and deliver performances which do set them apart from their peers as they should be in the story. The multiple characteristics required by Anita (saucy, protective, patriotic, funny, angry, humiliated, loyal, loving) make hers one of theater's choicest roles and Roxana Sanchez sparkles in it. Javi Harnly interprets Maria's brother Bernardo as the macho tough guy that he is. Congratulations to all.
The final performances take place on the Main Stage at Hartnell College's Performing Arts Center: 7:30 p.m. — Friday, August 22; Saturday August 23; Friday, August 29, and Saturday, August 30 and 2 p.m., Sunday August 24. Tickets and information are available at westernstage.com or 831-755-6816.