Kate Welsh & Andrew Norton in West Side Story. Photo courtesy of CenterStage.
West Side Story
Music by Leonard Bernstein, Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by Arthur Laurents
Directed by John R Leffert
Review by Kate Barry
Entire contents are copyright © 2016 Kate Barry. All rights reserved.
To even attempt a negative critique for a show as seamless and perfect as West Side Story would be a complete insult to the musical theater genre. This work of art has set the bar exceptionally high. Leonard Bernstein and Steven Sondheim were the first to place pop music and contemporary issues in a musical theatre format years before Jonathan Larson or Lin-Manuel Miranda came along. And Jerome Robbins’ dancing has been replicated many times over both on stage and television. Remember those Gap commercials? But I digress. CenterStage is currently producing this musical retelling of Romeo and Juliet and, having seen many previous productions at JCC, I would say that this is one of their best.
With West Side Story, certain elements are key and expected. The dancing has to be on point, the snapping has to be on beat and the feuding gangs need to be tense. ‘The Prologue”, “Dance at the Gym” and “Rumble” scenes, are all perfect tributes to Jerome Robbins’ signature choreography. Although the stage may be a bit small at times for the grand turns and leaps, focus is never shifted from the story being told through dance. It’s no secret that this is a dance-heavy show and this cast delivers the goods in terms of movement. “America” pumps with Latin flavor, “Cool” is solidly smooth and, most notably, the “Somewhere” ballet is strikingly moving with choreography that resonates with tragic current events in today’s news.
Andrew Newton is a dreamy crooner as Tony, his rendition of “Maria” and “Something’s Coming” were beyond exceptional. With Kate Welsh as Maria, their duet of “One Hand, One Heart” is beautiful and tragic when placed in the wider scope of the play’s events. Welsh plays Maria as wide eyed and naïve, with a dramatic transition for each reality she faces, until her powerful “I Have Hate” speech at the play’s conclusion.
The Sharks and Jets require just as much attention and deserve as much accolades as Tony and Maria. Mitch Donahue is great fun as the quick-witted alpha dog Riff, the leader of the Jets. Brad Middleton is a passionate, ticking time bomb as Action, a character often under-appreciated in other productions. Remy Sisk is strong with his silent beats as Sharks gang leader, Bernardo. With every racist remark thrown toward the Sharks, Sisk savors the tension with a seemingly calm presence that is sure to disrupt at any point. Jessica Adamson shares her commanding vocal in “A Boy Like That”, which expresses her vibrant ferocity as Anita.
As I was leaving the theater after the show, I noticed the television in the lobby broadcasting news stories of police murders and the Black Lives Matter movement. No doubt a coincidence but this had me thinking: we go to the theater to escape our troubles and to be reminded that not everything in the world is doomed. With CenterStage’s production of West Side Story, the dangers and violence are presented front and center but possibly, a better world waits.
West Side Story
July 7-24 2016
CenterStage at Jewish Community Center
3600 Dutchmans Lane
Louisville, KY 40205
Kate Barry earned her Bachelors in English with a Theater minor from Bellarmine University in 2008. She has worked with many different companies around town including Kentucky Shakespeare Festival, Bunbury Theater, Louisville Repertory Company, Walden Theater, Finnigan Productions and you have probably purchased tickets from her at that little performing arts center on Main Street as well. In 2012, her short play “PlayList” won festival favorite in the Finnigan Festival of Funky Fresh Fun. She has written for LEO Weekly and TheatreLouisville.com as well. Thanks for reading!