Virginia Rep brought to life the memorable work of Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, Arthur Laurents, and Jerome Robbins in the classic production of West Side Story. Direction by Nathaniel Shaw perfectly intertwined the many moving parts and production elements vital to a production like this. Shaw captured the energy, drive, and conflict.
This is truly a triple threat show. The acting must be convincing, humorous, and tragic. The singing has to be textbook. And the dancing…you’ll wish you knew how to move like that. Shaw had a talented cast to provide the acting chops. Musical direction by Anthony Smith came in the form of ascending melodies, tight harmonies, and an orchestra that sounded out of this world. Choreography by Matthew Couvillon would have made original choreographer Jerome Robbins proud. It is safe to say nearly every single performer onstage was firm in their talent and poise.
With her lithe and whimsical charm, Brittany Santos gave her character of Maria a three-dimensional personality rather than a flat affect. Her subtle movements were purposeful yet communicative. Both her highs and lows were appropriate, convincing, and tore your heart apart both in the best and worst ways. Her voice soared through the theatre in a beautiful soprano, exemplifying her craft and expertise. Opposite Santos, Justin Luciano was a tall and forthright Tony. Rather than youthful and naive, Luciano embodied Tony as a young man of equal parts maturity and restlessness. Luciano’s timbre was unique when singing solo, but mixed surprisingly well with Santos’s bright tone.
The role of Maria’s brother Bernardo, played by Eddie Maldonado, was full of machismo, sex appeal, and power. His anger was red-hot, and his dance moves were controlled and purposeful. As Bernardo’s love interest and best friend to Maria, Maria Cristina Slye as Anita wowed the audience with her comedy and choreographic expertise.
It was a joy to watch Slye move onstage. She was a convincing actress, too. One could truly feel the pain and heartbreak Anita felt during so many instances throughout the show. Finally, Corey Mosello dripped with coolness as Riff, Tony’s best friend from “womb to tomb.” As leader of the Jets, he flew over the stage with his dancing and embodied the swagger of a leader of a young group of men making their way on the streets.
The talent of the leads were exceptional, but a powerhouse ensemble completely wraps up the show in a nice, tight bow. Noteworthy talent of their skills in dancing, singing, and acting included Paul Dandridge as A-Rab, Giovanni Da Silva as Pepe, Savannah George as Teresita, and Grant Taylor as Big Deal.
Scott Bradley designed a brilliant set for the stage of the November Theatre. Eye-catching skyscrapers, chain link fences, and support poles allowed for the actors to dance, swing, and leap around the space. In order to save on fly space, Bradley would use panels of walls or curtains as entrances in order to create new settings, forcing the actors to continue acting even when they’ve “left the room,” thus allowing the audience to “see through the walls” whilst the action is going on centerstage.
Mixed with BJ Wilkinson’s phenomenal lights, the visual components of West Side Story came together harmoniously. Wilkinson’s use of color, texture, and spotlights were expert. Rounding off the design team, Sarah Grady’s costumes delineated the Jets versus the Sharks through color and style. Costumes were appropriate for the time period, functional, and truly spectacular to look at.
It is understandable that years of training, time, and work goes into getting a cast of this caliber. The story itself, however, surrounds youth of New York, on the cusp of real adulthood. While the talent was evident, it was difficult to not acknowledge the fact that the bulk of the cast looked just a little too mature for the characters. Save for this one critique, it is without saying that the rest of the boxes were checked for this production.
There is a strange sensation that comes over you when you sit in the audience of a show, a show that has been performed on stages across the world for decades, and yet still packs the same punch today as it did when it first opened onstage. West Side Story is no exception to that. The division between the New York Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks forces one to think about the other divisions made toward immigrant groups that arrive in the United States. Time and time again, the Sharks inform the Jets that all they want is simply to live in the country that they came to.
A painful reminder comes when the Sharks remind the audience that “Nobody knows in America/Puerto Rico’s in America,” commenting on the fact that still to this day, Americans seem to forget about the island that holds American citizens. Finally, there is a surprising amount of police brutality toward the Sharks that goes on in West Side Story. Lieutenant Schrank blatantly tells the Jets to finish off the Sharks, otherwise he’ll do so himself. It slaps one in the face, reminding anyone of the brutality that goes on in the country to this day.
With energy and passion vibrating throughout the entire theatre, West Side Story can provide a memorable evening of theatre for anyone. An American classic, it could win over even the most reluctant of audiences. The talent is evident. The music is memorable. The dancing…don’t miss out.
Get your tickets for West Side Story here– they’re going fast. West Side Story runs through July 29.