Review: West Side Story at Barrington Stage

Sarah Crane, Magdalena Rodriguez, Skyler Volpe, Tamrin Goldberg, and Jerusha Cavazos in Barrington Stage Company’s West Side Story. Photo by Daniel Rader.

by Mark G. Auerbach and Benjamin Jacek

Barrington Stage celebrated the collaboration of Leonard Bernstein and Jerome Robbins a few seasons ago, with a beautiful revival of their first musical together, On The Town, a production which moved to Broadway to accolades from critics and audiences alike. To celebrate the centennials of both master composer and director/choreographer, Julianne Boyd programmed and directed a revival of West Side Story, which runs through September 1. It’s much better than Boyd’s 2007 revival of the classic, which turned Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet into a powerhouse love story amongst gang rivalry in the tenements of New York City’s midtown west side, an area leveled and rebuilt as Lincoln Center a half century ago.

The story and songs are classic, and director Julianne Boyd emphasizes the glories of the original material, without updating it, revising it, or imprinting it with a modern sensibility. The material holds up. Darren R. Cohen’s music direction is terrific, and Robert LaFosse’s reproduction of Jerome Robbins’ choreography is dynamic. The physical production is innovative, robust, and one of the best to be showcased on Barrington Stage’s intimate Boyd-Quinson mainstage. Kristen Robinson’s set is dark and gritty, Sara Jean Tosetti’s costumes, light and simple for the Jets, bold and colorful for the Sharks, move and sway as effortlessly as the dancers wearing them. David Lander’s lighting is nuanced.

Sean Ewing, Tyler Hanes, and the cast of Barrington Stage Company’s West Side Story. Photo by Daniel Rader.

I took my college-bound pal Ben Jacek with me to help me get a fresh take on the 1957 Broadway hit, which was turned into a hit movie, and has been a frequent visitor to Broadway and theatres everywhere. Ben was familiar with both Romeo and Juliet and the film version of the musical. Ben wasn’t all that familiar with the music, but he found it entertaining. Jerome Robbins came up with idea of musicalizing Romeo and Juliet, originally conceived as a clash between the Irish and The Jews in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Producer Harold Prince, author Arthur Laurents, composer Leonard Bernstein, lyricist Stephen Sondheim, and director/choreographer Jerome Robbins moved the story crosstown, substituted Anglos and Puerto Ricans as rivals for turf west of Broadway, and a hit was born. West Side Story lost the Best Musical Tony Award to The Music Man, but West Side Story won Robbins an award.

The performances, all rendered by young actors who can dance as well as they act and sing, are top notch. The ensemble made Robbins’ and LaFosse’s dancing look effortless, and they were on the beat in the complicated fight sequences. Will Branner’s “Tony” is appealing, as is Addie Morales’ “Maria”, who has a delightful soprano voice. Skyler Volpe’s “Anita” sizzles, and Sean Ewing’s “Bernardo” and Tyler Hanes’ “Riff” were superb,.

Sarah Crane, Magdalena Rodriguez, Skyler Volpe, Tamrin Goldberg, and Jerusha Cavazos in Barrington Stage Company’s West Side Story. Photo by Daniel Rader.

Ben thought West Side Story “felt like it could take place in today’s world. It really didn’t have an “old” or dated part to it. I liked all the choreography, and it was really amazing and so perfectly timed to the music. I would definitely recommend West Side Story to my friends, because the dance numbers were so exciting; I also liked how the set pieces were used in the show”

I have to agree with Ben’s accolades. Julianne Boyd’s production of West Side Story is a fusion of timeless story and music, sensible direction, outstanding production elements, and fine performances. I’ve seen numerous productions in recent years–this is the best. Don’t miss it.

And, introduce a young person to live theatre with a great production like this, easily accessible to middle schoolers and older. Ben said “I will seek out live theatre, when I get to college. Theatre has shown me that there are new and endless ways to enjoy entertainment, and so much more so, when you try something outside the boundaries of what you think you’ll like”.

West Side Story runs through September 1…

Barrington Stage Company presents West Side Story..Based on a concept by Jerome Robbins. Book by Arthur Laurents. Music by Leonard Bernstein. Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Directed by Julianne Boyd. Music direction by Darren R. Cohen. . Original choreography reproduced by  by Robert LaFosse.. Scenic design by Kristen Robinson. Costume design by Sara Jean Tosetti. Lighting design by David Lander.  Sound design by Matthew Kraus. Cast: Addie Morales  as “Maria,” Will Branner as “Tony,” Skyler Volpe as “Anita,” Sean Ewing as “Bernardo,”.Entire original production directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins Through September 1.. Barrington Stage Company, Pittsfield, MA. 413-236-8888 or www.barringtonstageco..org

Mark G. Auerbach studied theatre at American University and the Yale School of Drama. He’s worked for arts organizations and reported on theatre for newspapers and radio. Mark produces and hosts ArtsBeat Radio on 89.5fm/WSKB Radio.

Benjamin Jacek is a student at The University of Wyoming, a recent graduate of Minnechaug Regional High School,and a member of the Mark G Auerbach Public Relations social media team, where he’s worked on projects for The Capitol Steps, Berkshire Film and Media Collaborative, and The Big Broadcast!

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