West Side Story

By Tom Nissley

“West Side Story” was a raging success from the moments it was born. When a team consisting of Jerome Robbins, Arthur Laurents, Leonard Bernstein, and Stephen Sondheim put together a musical production based on the idea of reworking Romeo and Juliet into the gang wars between Puerto Ricans and other gangs in New York, we got what may be America’s best musical ever into the repertoire, and it still shines brightly today.

Nowhere is that more easily demonstrated than with the production now playing at the Summer Theatre of New Canaan, with its own great team of Melody Libonati (director), Doug Shankman (choreographer), and David Hancock Turner (musical director). These three, who work together with such ease and mutual affection, deserve to be awarded a special prize for putting together this show. It is a stupendous production of a musical, with precise stage direction and perfect timing, to fabulous dancing, over and over again, to clear and wonderful singing, from a large cast that works together to combine singing and dancing and bringing the story forward in every way.

A very creative set (Charles Pavarini III), with lighting design by Daniel B Chapman, and sound design by Ian Loftus; and excellent costumes (Lauren Gaston) complete the package.

The company, some thirty actors, could be given an award for best ensemble, because they work so well in tandem in every scene. That is especially true when they are spread out across the stage dancing in complicated sets, entirely in sync, but it carries thru into smaller groups (the girls from Puerto Rico, the Jets spoofing Officer Krupke, for example) and is a trademark of the directing style and choreography.

Several actors anchor the story line and do that well. They each inhabit their roles -- and we take their personas home with us so it’s easy to say, “I loved Anita, and Maria, and Tony, and Bernardo.” What that means is that we loved the powerful singing and dancing of Kristen Stewart (Anita), Julia Paladino (Maria), Zach Schanne (Tony), and Hector Flores Jr. (Bernardo). Johnny Wexler (Action) is particularly strong and a superb dancer and acrobat. Nicole Colon’s ‘Somwhere’ solo was a highlight. And the list could be longer, because all the members of this company were terrific, and shared with each other in the impact they produced.

So orchids to the Summer Theatre of New Canaan for a very special “West Side Story.” It’s ironic that the story part of the show is so true to life. The world of Hell’s Kitchen, which was demolished when the buildings of Lincoln Center were erected in its space, did have gangs of Puerto Ricans and others, all worthy of the social workers and prosecutors that are satirized in “Officer Kruptke.”

For information about the Summer Theatre of New Canaan, visit www.stonc.org

Tom Nissley for the Ridgelea Reports on Theatre



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