Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
West Side Story at Ivoryton Playhouse is a real mixed bag of a production. There are some absolutely sterling elements in this show, and some moments and directorial decisions that simply don't work. With a book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim (and originally conceived and directed by Jerome Robbins), West Side Story will always be one of the greatest musicals ever written. Most of the notable scenes in this production involve the touching central couple of Tony and Maria, beautifully portrayed by Stephen Mir and Mia Pinero.
Indeed, in such duets as "Tonight" and "One Hand, One Heart," the heart stirs and there is magic throughout the theatre. But, aside from a feisty Anita as played by the talented Natalie Madlon, most of the other aspects of this production just don't gel like they should. The cast is game, but in the hands of director/choreographer Todd L. Underwood, the potential of this West Side Story frequently feels unfulfilled.
Before getting to what doesn't work, let's focus on the show's assets. As Tony, Stephen Mir is fresh-faced and handsome, with a voice that soars in both the duets and such solo numbers as "Something's Coming." And, speaking of voices, I don't think I have ever heard a better Maria than Mia Pinero. With a near operatic range, this young actress possesses a gorgeous soprano that makes all of Maria's music sound amazing. Her acting is similarly exquisite; let's hope she goes on to other soprano like as Christine in The Phantom of the Opera or Clara in The Light in the Piazza.
It takes a little while for the production to take fire, with "Jet Song" falling rather flat, partly due to the cramped stage space at Ivoryton Playhouse, and the same goes for "The Dance at the Gym." The dancers do what they can, under the circumstances, but only "Cool" really comes through as a truly satisfying group number. Even the usually sure-fire "Gee, Officer Krupke!" in the second half doesn't go over that well, through no real fault of the actors who perform the number. As Anita, Natalie Madlon is a showstopper in the "America" dance number and she brings a fiery presence to the production.
The real problems fall on director/choreographer Todd L. Underwood and some of the questionable choices he has made in this production. For instance, it doesn't make much sense to have Tony and Maria seated during the dream dance sequence in the second act, and that flaw is compounded by having the character of Anybodys (played by Hillary Ekwall) singing part of the song. (And, speaking of Anybodys, why is this character so prominently featured in all of the Jet production numbers, when she is supposed to be an outcast in the show?) There are also some slow spots in between scenes, simply because Daniel Nischan's massive set pieces take so long to move.
The overall production, at times, feels a little static and bulky, though both costume designer Elizabeth Cipollina and lighting designer Marcus Abbott make helpful contributions. The choreography borrows some steps from the original Jerome Robbins dances, with Underwood filling in the rest. Fortunately, the offstage orchestra sounds wonderful, with musical director Michael Morris bringing out the best of Leonard Bernstein's score.
When Tony and Maria are at the center of the production, everything clicks, and just to hear Stephen Mir and, especially, Mia Pinero sing these classic songs pretty much makes this show worth a visit. But this West Side Story too often simply doesn't come together as it should and, ultimately, it feels like something of a missed opportunity.
West Side Story continues performances at Ivoryton Playhouse in Ivoryton, CT through July 30, 2017. For tickets, please visit www.ivorytonplayhouse.org or call the box office at 860-767-7318.