“West Side Story” is Wondrous at Midtown Arts

Leonard Bernstein Music Is As Glorious As Ever

Reviewed by Tom Jones
September 7, 2018

Early in Act I Kyle Smith, as Tony, musically tells the audience that “Something’s coming and it’s gonna be great.” That promise is wondrously fulfilled in this excellent production of the Broadway classic, “West Side Story.”

Tony has been leader of a youth gang, the Jets. When his gang swoops onto stage in an amazing display of choreography, they set the tone for an especially rewarding evening of talent. The Jets are not a happy group, as their “territory” is being threatened by the sudden emergence of Puerto Rican immigrants, The Sharks.

Choreographer Jerome Robbins had the idea of putting Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” in the context of the teenage gang warfare in New York City of the 1950s. He worked with composer Leonard Bernstein to produce a near-ballet telling of the turmoil. Lyrics are by Stephen Sondheim who was then just 26 years old. The collaboration opened in New York in 1957, and went on to fame worldwide as a stage musical and later as an Academy Award winning movie. Their efforts have stood the test of time, and the story is every bit as relevant now as it was 60 years ago. The Leonard Bernstein score has become a classic, and the MAC orchestra provides an excellent rendition.

Photo Credit Dyann Dierks

When Tony, former Jet leader, meets Maria, the sister of the Shark leader, all interest in gang rivalry vanishes. He is immediately smitten, and so is the audience. Chemistry between Kyle Smith as Tony and Josy Soriano as Maria is palpable. The introduction of the two amidst the dance at the high school gym is one of Broadways most rewarding scenes, with Tony singing the ever-beautiful, “Maria.” Stage musicals don’t get much better than this! Soriano is especially impressive as the young Puerto Rican immigrant, Maria

Jill Godfrey is credited for directing and choreographing this current marvel. She has the Jets and Sharks displaying their physical manliness while erupting in near-classical ballet. The fight scenes are staged with great believability, and the dancing is continually exciting. Substantial preparation and training are evident in providing such effective results. Jalyn Courtenay Webb is musical director, reminding the audience that the songs continue to be as enchanting as ever – “Something’s Coming,” “Maria,” “America,” “I Feel Pretty,” “Somewhere,” and the delightful “Gee, Officer Krupke.”

Some in the cast are beyond their teenage years, but talent abounds. Samuel Rene Damare doesn’t miss a beat as the Jet’s “Riff.” Dorian O’Brien” is excellent as his Shark nemesis, “Bernardo.” Demi Ahlert holds center stage in the palm of her hand as Maria’s friend, “Anita.” Sara Kowalski is sheer delight as the young girl who doesn’t yet fit into any group, and so desires to “belong.” Christopher Alvarado as Chino is convincingly heart-broken with his actions. In reality, there is not a weak link in the entire group of accomplished actors, singers, and dancers. Special note must be paid to Daniel Harkins as the mean-spirited cop who would like to erase the Puerto Ricans from the area, and to John Jankow, owner of the local drug store, desperately trying to retain some sort of peace and order between the rival toughs.

Set, lighting, and costumes are all very effective.

Beautifully portrayed, “West Side Story” is not a happy tale. This is a gritty production, with an undercurrent of continued fear and apprehension, laced with the desire of hope for a better future. As the show ended, the audience was in stunned silence for several seconds before reality of the excellence they had witnessed set in. Then virtually everyone stood up to cheer and express appreciation.

Prior to the beginning of the Opening Night performance, the cast and crew honored Kurt Terrio, owner of The Midtown Arts Center.” This production of “West Side Story” is the 100th show Terrio has produced over the years in various venues. Work on an earlier version of “West Side Story” was one of his first efforts.

“West Side Story”
Where: Midtown Arts Center, 3750 South Mason Street, Fort Collins, CO 80525
When: To November 11, 2018
Information: Box Office: 970/225-2555
Tickets: www.midtownartscenter.com

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