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West Side Story Rave Review

When you're a Jet: Eric Parker,
Eric Ronquillo, Gasper Spinosa,
Jackson Tobishba, Brian Alexander.

By Stephen Stanley, 2012-07-17
Following their multiple award-winning stagings of The Who’s Tommy, Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical, and Merrily We Roll Along (among others), The Chance Theater’s Oanh Nguyen and Kelly Todd have once again joined forces, this time to reinvent the Broadway classic West Side Story with equally spectacular results.

Unlike the musical’s recent Broadway revival, a brilliant recreation of the 1957 original with book writer Arthur Laurents directing and Joey McKneely replicating Jerome Robbins’ iconic choreography, The Chance Theater gives us a West Side Story that is fresh and new from the ground up, from the opening chords of composer Leonard Bernstein’s Jets vs. Sharks “Prologue.”
In less gifted hands than director Nguyen’s and choreographer Todd’s, any messing with perfection could be musical theater suicide.

Fortunately, Nguyen has proven himself time and time again to be one of the Southland’s bona fide directorial geniuses, and Todd has received Best Choreography nominations from both the LADCC and the Ovations for her memorable work in Jerry Springer: The Opera and Hair. The result of the team’s latest inspired collaboration is a West Side Story that respects its source material (Laurents’ book and Bernstein’s and lyricist Stephen Sondheim’s songs) yet re-imagines the Romeo and Juliet story as if it were a brand new show, which in its creative partnership’s hands, it quite often seems to be.

It helps a great deal that the Chance Theater stage is about the farthest thing imaginable from a Broadway-scale proscenium, seating only fifty or so and reconfigured for West Side Story to place the audience on opposite sides lengthwise. In such a small space, it would have been foolhardy if not downright impossible for Todd to recreate Jerome Robbins’ signature crouches and leaps. And wonder of wonders, her choreography proves every bit as exciting as its illustrious predecessor’s, particularly since Todd has her dozen and a half Jets and Sharks executing their dance moves literally within touching distance of the audience.

West Side Story’s opening “Prologue” is not the only musical number to blur the line between Todd’s dance and David McCormick’s fight choreography, as Jets and Sharks square off in a preview of the Act One closer, “The Rumble,” fists flying and legs kicking so in-your-face, you’d swear you were there smack dab in the middle of the mean streets of New York. “The Dance At The Gym” retains its script-dictated circle-within-a-circle setup, but soon morphs into Jet boys and Shark girls and Shark boys and Jet girls joined in a dance of both enmity and desire, in the middle of which Tony and Maria’s first sight of each other across the gym is as magical as it has ever been. “Cool” has Riff and the Jets—both male and female—expressing teen rage thought the medium of dance, with four banged-about straight-back metal chairs adding fury and noise to the mix.

An exquisite, moving “Somewhere” dream ballet imagines a world in which barefoot Jets and Sharks execute graceful pas de deux in harmony and peace. Act Two’s aborted rape scene, another in which violence gets expressed in moves both realistic and dancelike, is more gut-wrenching than ever performed so close to the audience.

Read the full review here

Press photo by Doug Catiller, True Image Studio



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