by Ivan Steel
There’s no doubt why Arthur Laurents critically acclaimed masterpiece, “West Side Story” has been enthralling audiences for the past 60 years. Besides, it’s sweeping score and innovative dance narrative, the timeless story of forbidden love, racial tension and police corruption still bear relevance today. Now, McCoy Rigby Entertainment has brought the iconic musical to The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, under the direction of Richard Israel, currently playing through May 14, 2017.
The landmark musical, based on William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” explores the rivalry between two New York City street gangs – the Jets [a Caucasian gang] and the Sharks [a Puerto Rican gang] in the mid 1950’s. Laurents original book entitled “East Side Story” featured a feud between an Irish-Catholic and Jewish family before rewritten into the gang warfare version we’re all familiar with today.
Caught in the middle are ill-fated lovers, Tony [Eddie Egan] and Maria [Ashley Marie]. Tony, a former Jet member is persuaded by Riff [Mike Starr], the leader of the Jets to join him and the others at a local dance. Tony spots Maria from across the room and they are drawn instantly to one other. Unfortunately, Maria’s brother and Sharks leader, Bernardo [Armando Yearwood, Jr.] and right hand man, Chino [Dino Nicandros] have their own ulterior motives, later resulting in grave consequences.
With jazz, opera, pop and Latin influences, the music by legendary composer and lyricist, Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim have become American standards not only in musical theatre but pop culture as well. Interestingly enough, the songs “I Feel Pretty” and “Tonight” were almost cut from the musical, inconceivable, as they are two of the most recognizable numbers from the show.
Eddie Egan stars as Tony. In his solo “Something’s Coming,” Egan manages to hit each pitch and key change effortlessly. His voice also possesses a rich tone making his version one of the best renditions I’ve heard. Later, he wows in “Maria” sustaining the high-notes beautifully, surely, melting hearts in this touching serenade.
Ashley Marie plays Maria. With her beautiful soprano, Marie embodied complete control and poise vocally. Her touching performance was authentic, unpretentious and organic. You literally watch a star being born in the final moments of Act Two.
Tony Award-winner, Jerome Robbins groundbreaking choreography was indeed revolutionary even by today’s standards. Some would even attest, the love story is secondary to Robbins’ dance narrative. In this production, choreographer, John Todd put his own signature stamp on the movements, while captivating audiences with electrifying routines, particularly in “Dance At The Gym” – one of the best sequences I’ve witnessed on stage.
Set designer, Stephen Gifford used scaffolding, platforms, ladders and chain-link fencing to successfully recreate the tenements, fire escapes, rooftops and the rough streets of New York City. Both costume designer, Thomas G. Marquez and wig designer, Katie McCoy mirrored the looks of the 1950’s accurately, but the fine detailing by props designer, Terry Hanrahan, for example, an old “Time Magazine” one of the Jets held up that set the bar high for future retellings.
Director, Richard Israel does a fine job staging McCoy Rigby’s production of “West Side Story,” by paying homage to the original versus reimagining the musical, a far too common trend these days. Named one of the greatest love stories of all time, why mess with a good thing? A decision any purist of the arts would appreciate.
“West Side Story” is playing at The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts now through May 14, 2017. Tickets are available by calling the box office at (562) 944-9801 or (714) 994-6310 or Order Online.