Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
Also see Bill's review of Cock
Asolo Rep and Joey McKneely have cast young. Daniel Russell as Baby John could pass for 13 or 14 and the rest of the cast are all age appropriate for their characters. Jenna Burns has a sweet youthful soprano, perfect for Maria, while Marc Koeck as Tony is the tenor Tony that Leonard Bernstein always said he wanted. "Something's Coming" and "Maria" sound more exciting and youthful because there is no strain at the top. They show great chemistry together in their duets "Tonight" and "One Hand, One Heart." Amos Wolfe as Riff, and Andrés Acosta as Bernardo are both terrific, the dominant forces in their respective gangs. Mary Antonini is exciting as Anita. There is not one weak link in the large cast, all of whom shine on their solo opportunities. The entire cast is worthy of the standing ovation they received at the performance I attended.
Mr. McKneely first learned the dances from the master himself, Jerome Robbins, when he appeared in Jerome Robbins' Broadway and is now the go to person of his generation to re-create them. He reportedly worked his cast hard and has achieved sizzling dancing throughout. As director, McKneely has paid equal attention to Arthur Laurents' book scenes so the entire production is a unified whole. Mr. McKneely conceived this version as a world that is just a bit askew; the stage is raked very slightly from stage right to stage left, the excellent sets by Lee Savage show the same vision, everything just a little off kilter. Costume designer Ann Hould-Ward has dressed the Jets and their women in drab blacks and whites while the Sharks and their women are in riots of hot colors. Donald Chan conducts the Leonard Bernstein (lyrics by Stephen Sondheim) score excitingly, leading a fine 12-piece orchestra.
This is the finest production of this masterpiece that I have ever seen. Michael Donald Edwards and Joey McKneely promised to make this version so good that it would be like seeing it for the first timea promise they have kept.
Note: I was lucky enough to get the chance to revisit this fantastic production of West Side Story two weeks after my initial review. Not quite halfway through the run the production looks just as crisp as it did on opening weekend. The dancing is still sharp and brilliantly executed, and everything I loved about it the first time is just as good the second time around. One thing I noticed in greater detail was how brilliant the lighting design by Brian Nason is, adding emotional shading to many moments in the show. Do not miss this West Side Story; I doubt we will see a production this fine in what is left of my lifetime.
Asolo Repertory Theater presents West Side Story through December 27, 2015, at the Mertz Theater in the FSU Center. 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, Florida. Box Office (941) 351-8000. For more information visit www.asolorep.org.
Cast (in order of appearance):
Orchestra (in alphabetical order):
Directed by Joey McKneely