The Music Circus production of “West Side Story” last week was everything you’d want a production of this great musical to be. It had inspired staging (directed by Bob Richards), terrific dancing (choreography by Diane Laurenson from Jerome Robbins’ original creations), excellent acting (with especially top-flight performances from the five lead roles), and great singing (by the full ensemble in the choral numbers, and by the leads in the solos and duets). In short, this was a Music Circus production to cherish, one that will long be remembered (on the level of “Miss Saigon,” “Les Miserables,” and “The Music Man” from past years).
The story is well known from the multi-Academy Award winning 1961 film. The book (by Arthur Laurents) is a modern take on the Romeo and Juliet tragic love story. But what has always made the musical special is the great music (by Leonard Bernstein; lyrics by Stephen Sondheim) and Mr. Robbins’ dynamic choreography. In Mr. Richards’ production, the music was delivered almost perfectly by musical director Craig Barna, who conducted a 17-piece orchestra that only faltered a few times with a couple of errant notes from a horn or two on the night we attended. Otherwise the musicians supported the singers and dancers ably, providing highlight after highlight as the story progressed.
Among those highlights were “Something’s Coming,” “Dance at the Gym,” “Maria,” “Tonight” (both as the Tony/Maria duet and as the exciting ensemble number later in the first act), “America,” “Cool,” “I Feel Pretty,” “Somewhere” (which included an ethereal dream sequence that was almost balletic in its choreography), the comical “Gee, Officer Krupke” (with its brilliantly insightful lyrics) and the lovely Maria/Anita duet on “A Boy Like That” and “I Have a Love.”
Singing these great songs were Justin Matthew Sargent’s fine tenor as Tony, Carolann M. Sanita’s soaring soprano as Maria, Desiree Davar’s dynamic mezzo as Anita, and Shane Rhodes as Riff. Also impressive in the dance sequences were German Alexander (Bernardo), Maria Briggs (Anybodys), Michael Callahan (Action), Garrett Hawe (A-rab), Tim McGarrigal (Diesel) and Andy Richardson (Baby John). They were supported by twelve ensemble members, all of whom had their moments.
In the other roles of note Gary Lee Reed was a fine Doc, and Rich Herbert was an appropriately offensive Lt. Schrach. David Pierini was the clueless Officer Krupke, and Michael Dotson provided a little comic relief as Glad Hand (the adult dance coordinator).
But, in truth, everyone who had a hand in this production should be noted, for the end result was that good. Scott Klier and Jamie Kumpf designed the sets (with impressive fire escapes on both sides of the stage that were used to great effect in Tony and Maria’s initial night-time rendez-vous). The costumes (especially the dresses for the gang members’ girlfriends) were the work of Mark Koss. Jill Lane was credited for hair, wig and makeup design, David Neville for lighting, and Joe Caruso, Jr. and Robert Sereno for sound.
Just about everything in this production was great, including the curtain calls at the end of the performance, which allowed all five principals their own ovations. Then, they all left the stage without the traditional exit music from the orchestra. Having the audience exit without a rousing medley of tunes from the show (as is the Music Circus tradition) was an interesting decision. It worked because of the way the story ends, tragically, and yet with a sense of hope.
And so, apart from the great music, song and dance, this “West Side Story” also delivered the none-too-subtle message that resonates as much now as it did when the play debuted almost 60 years ago. We left the Wells Fargo Pavilion thinking about that message, even as we had some of the show’s great tunes playing in our head.