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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review
West Side Story
The dance-saturated conflicts between the Jets and Sharks will undoubtedly continue to thrill fans and engage newcomers to this 1957 musical inspired by Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Amazingly, the passing of time has not diminished the impact of West Side Story's relatively dated view of New York's juvenile gang culture. While I was impressed by the inclusion of carefully selected spoken and sung Spanish written by Lin Manuel Miranda for the last Broadway revival, the musical's pronounced ethnicity does not go wanting when Maria (Belinda Allyn) sings I Feel Pretty" with the support of Anita (Natalie Cortez) and their girl friends. It still resonates with its vibrant sense of Latino sisterhood. Allyn is absolutely lovely and sings angelically as Maria as congtrasted in Corez's fiery and feisty performance as Anita, especially in her ardent aria "A Boy Like That" and the most exhilaratingly danced "America." The company's Tony. Matt Doyle, is good-looking, sings well and is a fine actor/
German Alexander, as the vengeful Bernardo, and Mickey Winslow as the antagonistic Riff are designated to steal some but not all of the thunder from their accompanying gang members. Also excellent are Jay Russell as the besieged drug store proprietor, William Ragsdale, as the flummoxed high school principal, Kevin C. Loomis and Craig Waletzko, as the biased and racist law enforcers. Another standout is Maria Briggs as the brash and boyish Anybodys.
Still up front and vital is the staging that defines the Jets in a community that treats them as intruders and second-class citizens. While Hoebee's direction correctly focuses on the tragic underpinnings that gird the plot, they are compensated with the show's many romantically soaring moments. Choreographer Sanchez and, of course, Hoebee, who made his Broadway debut dancing in Jerome Robbins'Broadway, have certainly fired up the large and terrifically lean, mean and good-looking company into a formidable confederation of Jets and Sharks.
The rumbles are filled with violence and the pulse-quickening challenge dance at the gym is recreated with admirable fidelity. Tony and Maria's lyrical escape dream ballet and all the other integrated dances embrace the show with moments of grace and bolts of danger. The success of this production is that it remains an effective homage and in synch with the heartbeat of the original.
This production also closed the memorable season in which the Paper Mill Playhouse has been awarded this year's Tony for Best Regional Theatre. Anyone seeing this glorious production will understand why.