Weston’s ‘West Side Story’ infused with energy Stunning ensemble work, choreography in a timely musical

The Jets: Choreographer Felicity Stiverson has ‘recaptured Robbins’ vision.’ Photo by Tim Fort.

By David Lampe-Wilson
©2018 Telegraph Publishing LLC

W ho would believe that a Broadway musical with social underpinnings would be as relevant today as it was 60 years ago, but that’s how it is with the American classic West Side Story, which is being given a dynamic revival at Weston Playhouse.

West Side Story is, of course, the musical of a modern-day Romeo and Juliet, circa 1957. On the harsh streets of New York City’s Upper West Side, two gangs — one made up of Polish-American teenagers called the Jets and a rival one of recently arrived Puerto Ricans, the Sharks — battle for control of their “turf.” The situation becomes deadly complicated after a gang member falls in love with a rival’s sister.

Tony (Max Sheldon) and Maria (Evy Ortiz) hoping for a future together. Photo by Hubert Schriebl

While the book by Arthur Laurents may seem quaint by today’s standards, there is no denying the power of Leonard Bernstein’s brilliant score.

Within the music — as well as within the various balletic episodes originated by Jerome Robbins — we catch much of the ugliness, agony and neuroticism of slum life in New York; but with it comes beauty and poetry that occasionally touches the lives of these tortured adolescents.

The cast in this production is strong throughout: Evy Ortiz’s Maria has a voice that easily soars along with Bernstein’s compositions and she is ably partnered by Max Sheldon’s Tony to make an engaging pair of star-cross’d lovers.

Bernardo (D.J. Petrosino) and Riff (Jordan J. Ford) square off at the rumble. Photo by Hubert Schriebl

D.J. Petrosino’s Bernardo and Courtney Arango’s Anita take center stage during the dance sequences. Whether dancing together or with other members of this excellent company, they demand our focus and we willingly give it to them.

The ensemble work is often stunning: The Gym sequence, in which the rival gangs have a dance-off, is fueled with a high-octane energy that threatens to burst off the stage. Much of the credit should be given to Choreographer Felicity Stiverson who has recaptured Robbins’ vision and, partnered with Director Tim Fort keeps this production moving to its inevitable conclusion.

Scenic Designer Russell Parkman has devised a flexible setting of girders, fire escapes, chain-link fencing and concrete facades that morph into a bridal shop, a bedroom, a drugstore and more. But it is the hardness of the materials he uses coupled with Lighting Designer Travis McHale’s noir shadows that put us in the right time and place and frame of mind.

The Jets and Sharks mambo at the dance. Photo by Tim Fort

Music Director Larry Pressgrove has reduced the orchestration requirements to a mere six musicians, but the music is so rich that we only occasionally miss the full symphony sound.

West Side Story exposes a society in which parents and law enforcement have failed to foster a sense of community, instead pitting people against each other to fight battles based on the same fears that cause the anti-immigrant sentiment today.

The show’s theme of love destroyed by hatred and intolerance is as poignant today as it was in Shakespeare’s time. But the storyline involving the mistreatment of Puerto Rican Americans makes West Side Story more timely now than ever. Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics echo down the decades; as they sing in the song America: “Nobody knows in America/Puerto Rico’s IN America!”

West Side Story continues through Aug. 4 at the Weston Playhouse, 12 Park St., Weston. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; matinees at 2 p.m. on Wednesday and Saturday and at 3 p.m. on Sunday. For information, call 802-824-5288. For tickets, click here.

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Filed Under: Community and Arts LifeIn the ArtsReviews

About the Author: After 30 years as a theater critic and arts editor for a Connecticut daily newspaper, David Lampe-Wilson transplanted to Vermont with his wife and two cats.

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