Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: New Jersey / Delaware Valley

West Side Story
Paper Mill Playhouse
Review by Bob Rendell


Matt Doyle and Cast
Photo by Jerry Dalia
West Side Story is a quintessential American musical. And it is our good fortune that its Paper Mill revival is close to perfection. It is robust, deeply moving, lean and muscular, beautifully sung and danced, and dangerously explosive.

Set on Manhattan's West Side in 1957, this modern variation on Romeo and Juliet substitutes Maria and Tony for Shakespeare's young lovers, and rival street gangs the Jets and the Sharks for their feuding families, the Montagues and the Capulets. The white ethnic Jets are contending for control of the streets with the Sharks, newer to the neighborhood Puerto Ricans. At a community dance, The Polish Tony and the newly arrived from Puerto Rico Maria are instantly drawn to each another. This leads to an escalation of the violence between the two gangs. Emphasizing that the gangs are the true families for these youths, we never see any of their parents. The only adults we meet are a police detective, beat cop, community center supervisor, and the owner of the drugstore where Tony is employed.

This is a gloriously traditional West Side Story with Producing Artistic Director Mark Hoebee directing and Alex Sanchez reproducing the original choreography of conceiver, director, choreographer Jerome Robbins. Both keep matters percolating at a brisk pace and elicit fresh, enthusiastic, precise and detailed performances which capture the fiery passion of Bernstein's music, Sondheim's lyrics, and Laurents' book.

Just a few of an evening of highlights:

  • There is a rare chemistry between Matt Doyle (Tony) and Belinda Allen (Maria) as they share and project an enchanting joyfulness in the choreographed "Dance at the Gym."

  • A realistic intensity in portrayal of the Sharks, their girlfriends and Anybodys blows past the silly substitutes for vulgar street argot and brings new verisimilitude to the members of the Sharks. It culminates in the most entertaining and powerful performance of “Gee, Officer Krupke" that I have yet seen.

  • Sound Design which permits us to hear every lyric clearly while maintaining the volume, impact and clarity of Leonard Bernstein's powerful score. During the thrilling performance of the show stopping "America", an audience has the too often unavailable experience of clearing hearing the lyric:

    "Automobile in America,
    Chromium steel in America,
    Wire-spoke wheel in America,
    Very big deal in America!"

    (This is especially worth mentioning at a time when the Tony Award for Best Sound Design has been eliminated to the consternation of many in the industry.)

  • The abundant detail in character delineation in the dance performances makes it manifest that "Somewhere" is a deeply moving, magnificent short ballet worthy of a place on world ballet stages.

  • By emphasizing the sweetness and humanity above the sensuality of Anita, Natalie Colon adds impact and clarity to Anita's tragic journey.

Although the excellent performances of German Alexander (Bernardo), Mikey Winslow (Riff), and Maria Briggs (Anybodys) must be singled out, it would be an injustice not to cite the essential contributions of the entire cast in a production in which every performance is made to strongly matter, and the dancing ensemble remarkably excels. All are listed below and each one is deserving of critical applause.

With a reinvigorated West Side Story virtually sold out for its entire run (including two added performances) now on stage, this season's two world premiere musicals—A Bronx Tale and The Bandstand—announced to open on Broadway in the new season, and its (overdue) selection for this year's Regional Theatre Tony Award, this is a thrilling, celebratory moment in time for the Paper Mill Playhouse.

West Side Story continues performances (Evenings: Tuesday-Thursday 7:30 pm/ Friday & Saturday 8 pm/ Sunday 7 pm/ Matinees: Thursday, Saturday & Sunday 1:30 pm) through June 26, 2016 at the Paper Mill Playhouse, 22 Brookside Drive, Millburn, NJ 07041. Box Office: 973-376-4343; online: www.papermill.org.

West Side Story based on a conception by Jerome Robbins; Book by Arthur Laurents; Music by Leonard Bernstein; Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim; Entire Original Production Directed and Choreographed by Jerome Robbins/Original Production Co-Choreographed by Peter Gennaro; Choreography Reproduced by Alex Sanchez; Directed by Mark S. Hoebee

Cast
The Jets
Riff, the leader……………………………………….Mikey Winslow
Tony, his friend……………………………………………Matt Doyle
Action…………………………………………………..Cody Williams
A-Rab………………………………………………………Jack Sippel
Baby John………………………………………...Parker Slaybaugh
Snowboy……………………………………………Brandon Stimson
Big Deal………………………………………………Michael Bullard
Diesel…………………………………………John Michael Fiumara
Gee-Tar………………………………………………..Spencer Clark
Their Girls
Graziella………………………………………...Tenealle Farragher
Velma/ "Somewhere" Soloist…………Summerisa Bell Stevens
Minnie…………………………………………………..Jamie Wappel
Clarice………………………………………........Brittany Conigatti
Anybodys……………………………………………….Maria Briggs
The Sharks
Bernardo, the leader………………………….German Alexander
Maria, his sister………………………………………..Belinda Allyn
Anita, his girl…………………………………………Natalie Cortez
Chino, his friend…………………………….Dean Andre De Luna
Pepe…………………………………………………….Danny Bevins
Indio……………………………………………...Damian Chambers
Luis……………………………………………………..Adam Rogers
Anxious………………………………………………Jordan Isadore
Nibbles…………………………………..James Allen Washington
Juano……………………………………………………..Phil Colgan
Their Girls
Rosalia………………………………………………………Kat Nejat
Consuelo………………………………………………Lauren Csete
Teresita……………………………………………………Alexia Sky
Francisca……………………………………………..Lisa Finegold
Estella…………………………………………………….Ilda Mason
The Adults Doc……………………………………………………….Jay Russell
Schrank………………………………………….William Ragsdale
Krupke…………………………………………….Kevin C. Loomis
Glad Hand………………………………………….Craig Waletzko


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