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|A CurtainUp Review
West Side Story
By Sonia Pilcer
Just to hear the glorious tunes, listen to the lyrics, watch the dance numbers of the most beloved musical of my adolescence made an evening at the Mac-Hayden a wonderful experience. I had grown up in Washington Heights, the upper upper Westside, and this musical was my portrait of an artist as a young woman. Thus, it gave me great satisfaction to introduce my ten- year- old son to the unforgettable archetypes of my youthful idealism: Maria, dressed in her white virginal gown, as she goes to her first dance at the gym and - the prototype moment of romantic love - she spots Tony across a crowded room, not to mention fiery Anita and sexy Bernardo.
One can't help, of course, thinking of the original actors: Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Rita Moreno and my major heartthrob at the time, George Chakiris, who won the Oscar with Moreno for the landmark film. West Side Story combined three geniuses: Leonard Bernstein (music), Stephen Sondheim (book), Jerome Robbins (choreography). Together they created such memorable moments as the violent, rhythmic, sexually charged "Dance at the Gym" and "The Rumble"; he tenderness of "Maria", ''One Hand, One Heart" and "Somewhere"; and the broad humor of "I like to Live in America" and "Officer Krepke". What creativity, what inspired collaboration!
The Mac-Hayden's production is suprisingly faithful to the original and I am happy to report that the leads have great voices and handle their roles admirably. I was most impressed by Shannon Polly's Anita. The last time I saw her, she was playing all-American Nellie Forbush in South Pacific (see link to review below). Imagine my surprise to discover what a dark wig and eyeliner can do for a gal, especially garbed in flashy dresses with a cleavage. She has a wonderful, Carmen-like presence. Debra Buonaccorsi's Maria is lovely to look at, and has a soprano that had the people around me saying, "What a voice!" Indeed. Her acting is believable and heartbreakingly sincere. Bernardo is played by Nicholas Ward, a powerful actor with a booming bass voice. Brian Whisenant as Tony seemed to me miscast, too much of a preppy Tony who belongs in another show. He does have a good voice and makes a valiant effort.
The Mac-Hayden is an amazing place that always has you wondering how they'll create a set on their tiny stage. In this case, by covering two walls with brick contact paper, they've created the image of a tenement with the famous fire escape, otherwise known as the Romeo and Juliet balcony scene. Set designer Jason Lee Courson and costume designer Nelson Fields have created a 60s look through a 90s filter. I must say I thought that the Jets' blue and yellow cotton jackets were not very appealing. T At least, the Jets got to wear black satin jackets with pink satin sleeves.
Having seen the Berkshire Stage Company production of Grease a day earlier at the Consolati auditorium, it occurred to me how much that musical owes to West Side Story though my son preferred Grease. (Editor's Note: Since the performers in Grease are non-professionals, the show isn't open to review). The teenagers of the 50s with their funny clothes, their hip language -- none of that existed before West Side Story. We all owe thanks director and choreographer Dennis Edenfield for giving us a delightful fascimile of one of this century's greatest musicals.
We usually get to Chatham just once a season but their season of top twentieth century top musicals is quite extraordinary.
My Fair Lady