BWW Review: North Carolina Theatre's WEST SIDE STORY
by Jeffrey Kare
Inspired by William Shakespeare's famous play, Romeo & Juliet, West Side Story is set in the Upper West Side neighborhood of New York City in the mid-1950s. The story explores the rivalry between two teenage street gangs of different ethnic backgrounds. The Jets, a white gang, and the Sharks, who are immigrants from Puerto Rico. Meanwhile, Tony, a former member of the Jets and best friend of the gang's leader, Riff, falls in love with Maria, the sister of Bernardo, the leader of the Sharks.
The original Broadway production directed & choreographed by Jerome Robbins was more of a success through its critical reception than an outright smash when it opened on September 26th, 1957. Though for the most part, critics still had some problems with the show, and West Side Story only managed a respectable if not earth shattering run when it ended on June 27th, 1959 after 732 performances. Yet, when the musical was brought to the big screen in 1961, it not only earned instant acclaim both critically and financially, but also reinvigorated the property of West Side Story and made it into the icon it is today as a landmark in the American musical theatre canon. The film adaptation ended up winning a record of 10 Academy Awards (the most of any movie musical), including Best Picture.
Under the direction of Eric Woodall, the design aspect of this production keeps everything in black and white as a metaphor for the issues this musical deals with, mainly the topic of race relations in America. For example, the Jets wear black clothing while the Sharks wear white. However, we do get a moment of color in Act II during the musical sequence 'Somewhere', which is aided by Jeremy Dumont's amazing choreography (working in the style of Jerome Robbins' work on the original) and Supriya Jaya's stunning offstage solo. Not only that, but Woodall also very successfully stages things in a more suggestive way as opposed to literal.
The cast consisting of mostly triple threats really bring their A-game to the table. Zach Adkins makes for a terrific Tony, a boy who finds himself violently torn between his friendships and love. He is well-matched by Addie Morales, who is perfectly cast as the young and innocent Maria. Their optimistic romance together is what grounds this show from all the mayhem going on between the two gangs. Michelle Alves proves to be a standout with her spunky performance as Anita, Maria's best friend who tries to protect her from the dangers of the gangs. Not to mention that her character is the one who provides most of the much needed comic relief to break away from all the tension going on in the plot. Other highlights of the cast include David Prottas as Riff, the quick-tempered leader of the Jets; Stephen Diaz as Bernardo, the strong and aggressive leader of the Sharks; Estes Tarver giving a tough as nails performance as the racist police detective, Lt. Schrank; and Sean McCracken as Schrank's right-hand man, Officer Krupke, who is regularly mocked by the Jets, especially in the comedic Act II number, 'Gee, Officer Krupke'.
With a timeless story scripted by Arthur Laurents as well as an unforgettable score by Leonard Bernstein & Stephen Sondheim, North Carolina Theatre does this American masterwork justice. If you've never even seen West Side Story before, you should not be disappointed in NCT's production. It is currently playing at Raleigh Memorial Auditorium through October 20th. Though if you're unable to make it, don't worry because there are actually a couple of exciting new interpretations of West Side Story coming up. A new Broadway revival directed by Ivo van Hove is set to begin performances in December while a new film adaptation directed by Steven Spielberg will be released in theaters next year.
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