Regional Reviews: New Jersey / Delaware Valley
West Side Story
Set on Manhattan's West Side in 1957, this modern variation on Romeo and Juliet substitutes Maria and Tony for Shakespeare's young lovers, and rival street gangs the Jets and the Sharks for their feuding families, the Montagues and the Capulets. The white ethnic Jets are contending for control of the streets with the Sharks, newer to the neighborhood Puerto Ricans. At a community dance, The Polish Tony and the newly arrived from Puerto Rico Maria are instantly drawn to each another. This leads to an escalation of the violence between the two gangs. Emphasizing that the gangs are the true families for these youths, we never see any of their parents. The only adults we meet are a police detective, beat cop, community center supervisor, and the owner of the drugstore where Tony is employed.
This is a gloriously traditional West Side Story with Producing Artistic Director Mark Hoebee directing and Alex Sanchez reproducing the original choreography of conceiver, director, choreographer Jerome Robbins. Both keep matters percolating at a brisk pace and elicit fresh, enthusiastic, precise and detailed performances which capture the fiery passion of Bernstein's music, Sondheim's lyrics, and Laurents' book.
Just a few of an evening of highlights:
Although the excellent performances of German Alexander (Bernardo), Mikey Winslow (Riff), and Maria Briggs (Anybodys) must be singled out, it would be an injustice not to cite the essential contributions of the entire cast in a production in which every performance is made to strongly matter, and the dancing ensemble remarkably excels. All are listed below and each one is deserving of critical applause.
With a reinvigorated West Side Story virtually sold out for its entire run (including two added performances) now on stage, this season's two world premiere musicalsA Bronx Tale and The Bandstandannounced to open on Broadway in the new season, and its (overdue) selection for this year's Regional Theatre Tony Award, this is a thrilling, celebratory moment in time for the Paper Mill Playhouse.
West Side Story continues performances (Evenings: Tuesday-Thursday 7:30 pm/ Friday & Saturday 8 pm/ Sunday 7 pm/ Matinees: Thursday, Saturday & Sunday 1:30 pm) through June 26, 2016 at the Paper Mill Playhouse, 22 Brookside Drive, Millburn, NJ 07041. Box Office: 973-376-4343; online: www.papermill.org.
West Side Story based on a conception by Jerome Robbins; Book by Arthur Laurents; Music by Leonard Bernstein; Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim; Entire Original Production Directed and Choreographed by Jerome Robbins/Original Production Co-Choreographed by Peter Gennaro; Choreography Reproduced by Alex Sanchez; Directed by Mark S. Hoebee