Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

West Side Story
Asolo Repertory Theatre
Review by William S. Oser | Season Schedule

Also see Bill's review of Cock

Jenna Burns and Marc Koeck
Photo by Cliff Roles
West Side Story at Asolo Repertory Theatre is a blazing production, a stunning way to open the fourth season of their examination of The American Character. When Michael Donald Edwards announced West Side Story last spring, he explained that he had always wanted to do it, but only if he could get Joey McKneely, responsible for the choreography of the last Broadway revival, as well as directing and choreography for a recent London production. Asolo Rep was able to secure Mr. McKneely and they were absolutely right that he is the man for the job.

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 time—a 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

Cast (in order of appearance):
Riff: Amos Wolff*
Action: Brett Thiele*
A-Rab: Michael Callahan*
Diesel: Sean Rollofson*
Big Deal: Raynor Rubel
Baby John: Daniel Russell*
Snowboy: Caleb Dicke
Bernardo: Andres Acosta*
Nibbles: Travante S. Baker*
Moose: James Gregory Jeffery
Chino: Virgil Matelau
Anxious: Anthony Raimondi**
Pepe: Alejandro Fonseca
Officer Krupke/Doc: Kenn Christopher*
Lieutenant Schrank/Glad Hand: Steven Sean Garland*
Anybody's: Tahlia Joanna Byers
Tony: Marc Koeck*
Maria: Jenna Burns*
Anita: Mary Antonini*
Marguerita: Victoria Byrd
Rosalia: Marilyn Caserta
Francisca: Isabelle McCalla*
Consuela: Michelle West
Graziella: Brianna Abruzzo
Velma/Teresita: Jill Gittleman
Minnie: Kathryn Huxtable
*=Member of Actor's Equity Association
**=Dance Captain

Orchestra (in alphabetical order):
Teri booth: Woodwind 2
John Cooley: Trombone
Matthew Dendy: Violin Sub
Michael Duff: Piano/Sub Conductor
Thomas Durante: Sinfonia
Tom Ellison: Woodwind I
Carlann Evans: Violin
Paul Gavin: Drums
Susannah Kelly: Cello
Victor Mongillo: Trumpet
Aaron Nix: Percussion
Janis Potter: Percussion Sub
Christian Regul: Rehearsal Pianist
Bill Swartzbaugh: Bass
Kevin Wu: Piano Sub

Directed by Joey McKneely
Choreography Reproduced by Joey McKneely< br>Music Director: Donald Chan
Scenic Design: Lee Savage
Costume Design: Ann Hould-Ward
Lighting Design: Brian Nason
Sound Design: Kevin Kennedy
Hair/Wig & Make-up Design: Michelle Hart
Production Stage Manager: Kelly A. Borgia*
Dramaturg: Lauryn E. Sasso
Associate Music Director: Michael Duff
Associate Choreographer: Jacquelyn Scafidi Allsopp
Voice & Dialect Coach: Patricia DeLorey
New York Casting: Paul Hardt, Stuart Howard AssociatesAssistant Stage Manager: Veronica Graveline*
Assistant Lighting Designers: Luamar Cervejeira, Jessica Creager
Stage Management Apprentice: Marissa PuigLiterary Apprentice: Deanie Vallone

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