LA Review: 'West Side Story'

at Chance Theater

Reviewed by Eric Marchese

July 16, 2012


Photo by Doug Catiller True Image Studio
In the more than 50 years since the landmark musical "West Side Story" first appeared, it has been revived countless times and become a staple of musical theater companies of all sizes. Productions that break the fourth wall, however, are few and far between. Other elements frequently missing are age-appropriate casting and the ability to generate a visceral sense of tension and danger. Director Oanh Nguyen and a stellar production team address all of these deficiencies in a powerful production that surrounds the audience and immerses them in the action. Bradley Kaye's scenic design brings the cast right up to the front rows of seats on opposite sides of the Chance Theater stage, but it also places them behind the seats on both sides, above viewers' heads. Combined with Nguyen's fluid staging and Kelly Todd's dynamic choreography, this approach effectively prevents spectators from regarding the story and characters as physically and emotionally remote.

Nguyen expands upon Jerome Robbins' original conception, Arthur Laurents' book, Leonard Bernstein's music, and Stephen Sondheim's lyrics without losing any of what makes them great. Musical highpoints include a breathless "Something's Coming," a sultry "Dance at the Gym," a reverent "Maria," a soaring "Tonight," a cheeky "America" and a quasi-religious "One Hand, One Heart." The sweet playfulness of "I Feel Pretty" and the goofy anti-establishment "Gee, Officer Krupke" provide a welcome respite from the gang brutality that surrounds these numbers. Conceptual brilliance is displayed in "Somewhere" and the finale, which tie together themes of violence, longing, and mortality in ways that are complex, surreal, and poignant.

The cast, 25 strong, contains no weak links. Sporting blue denim and tattoos, the Jets are baby-faced yet muscular and athletic, while the Sharks are, at least in public, well-dressed and adherent to social formality. The hallmark of Keaton Williams' youthful, juvenile Tony is his foolish refusal to see reality. Gina Velez is a sweet, wholesome Maria, more sensible than Tony yet still swept away by the powerful currents of love. Chelsea Baldree is a sassy, streetwise Anita. Robert Wallace's darkly handsome Bernardo smolders with his hatred for whites. Israel Cortez's Chino is a basically decent teen who lacks the guts to resist being in a gang. Gasper Spinosa's Riff is the cool-headed yet ambitious de facto Jets leader. Brian Alexander's Action is a swaggering hothead.

Robyn Wallace's music direction, offstage piano and keyboard playing, and conducting of a five-piece combo add nuance to Bernstein's immortal score while allowing a fresh appreciation of Sondheim's genius for creating lyrics that surprise. Anthony Tran's costumes, KC Wilkerson's lighting and video, and Dave Mickey's sound scheme round out a peerless reconceptualization of this musical theater classic, one for which no superlative is undeserved.

Presented by and at Chance Theater, 5552 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim Hills. July 13–Aug. 19. Thu. and Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 and 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 and 7 p.m. (714) 777-3033 or www.chancetheater.com.
 

 
Subscribe to Back Stage

More LA Theatre Reviews

ADVERTISEMENT

Unscripted Blog


Visit Unscripted »

Sponsors

Back Stage Video

Duncan Stewart, director of casting at National Artists Management Company, talks about opening every submission and what he wants to see in a headshot.; casting; Duncan Stewart; headshot; new york city; open submissions; Duncan Steward, director of casting, talks about what he wants from an actor in a general meeting, mainly truth, likability, and lack of ego.; advice; casting; Duncan Stewart; new york city; tips; Duncan Stewart, director of casting, talks about what he expects from an audition and common mistakes actors make.; advice; auditions; casting; Duncan Stewart; new york city; Alaine Alldaffer breaks down the real role of a casting direcor.; Alaine Alldaffer; casting; casting director; Grey Gardens; play; stage; theater; Casting director Alaine Alldaffer talks about casting "Saved" and all the misconceptions about being an actor in New York City.; Alaine Alldaffer; casting director; NYC theatre; play; saved; NY casting director Bernie Telsey describes what actors need to know before walking into an audition. (Part 1 of 2) ; Bernie Telsey; casting director; We spoke with casting director Mark Teschner about working on soap operas. (Part 1 of 3) ; General Hospital; Mark Teschner; soap opera; NY casting director Bernie Telsey describes how to give your best audition. (Part 2 of 2) ; Bernie Telsey; casting director; We spoke with casting director Mark Teschner about working on soap operas. Need only beautiful people apply? (Part 2 of 3) ; General Hospital; Mark Teshner; soap opera; We spoke with casting director Mark Teschner about auditioning for soap operas. (Part 3 of 3) ; General Hospital; Mark Teschner; soap opera; Videos for the Back Stage News & Features section.

ADVERTISEMENT