Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
The curtain is up as the audience takes their seats and Tim Brown's atmospheric scenic design is entirely appropriate for this musical. As the Jets and the Sharks dance the prologue of the show, the audience is gradually introduced to the main characters. Director/choreographer Cassie Abate has wisely borrowed some of Jerome Robbins' original dance steps, but this production also allows her to add some of her own staging ideas. The cast is made up of first-rate dancers and performers who do full justice to Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim's score and Arthur Laurents' book.
In a company of equals, Bentley Black does a particularly fine job in the role of Riff, leading both the "Jet Song" and "Cool" superbly. As Bernardo, Yurel Echezarreta displays his electric presence and is entirely believable as the leader of the Sharks. The conflict between the Jets and Sharks is so palpable, you could practically cut it with a knife and it offers the perfect backdrop for the star-crossed lovers at the center of the show.
Luke Hamilton makes for a handsome and tender Tony, though it seems, at times, that he tries to project his songs too forcefully, which undercuts some of the beauty of the music. Still, he does a good job and, by the conclusion, his Tony is achingly sympathetic, as he must be. Julia Estrada lends her gorgeous soprano to Maria's songs and she shines in all in her numbers, particularly "I Feel Pretty" and her powerful duet with Anita, "A Boy Like That/I Have a Love." Estrada also acts the part beautifully and one truly cares about the relationship between Maria and Tony, making their fate all the more heartbreaking.
Cassidy Stoner is a real firecracker of an Anita, delivering "America" torridly, and she is harrowing in the taunting scene between her and the Jets near the conclusion. One of the most indelible images in this production is the "Tonight (Quintet)" sequence, with Stoner ravishing in her part, and the staging of the rest of the company brilliantly done on the many levels of the set for maximum effect. Finally, as the adults in the piece, Dale AJ Rose makes for an outstanding Doc, with good work by John Bixler as Schrank/Gladhand and Nick Lawson as the appropriate figure of fun, Officer Krupke.
Christina Lorraine Bullard has provided ideal costumes for all the characters and lighting designer Michael Chybowski works in perfect accordance with his fellow designers to realize the director's vivid vision. It is saying a lot that the endings of both acts are devastating.
The impact of this production at the Connecticut Repertory Theatre is all the more impressive in light of the fact that this production is on such a limited performance schedule, with critics invited to the second performance of the run. This West Side Story packs a real punch.
West Side Story continues performances at Connecticut Repertory Theatre's Harriet S. Jorgensen Theatre in Storrs, CT through July 17, 2016. For tickets, please visit www.crt.uconn.edu or call the box office at 860-486-2113.