Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay


West Side Story
Mountain Play Association
Review by Patrick Thomas | Season Schedule

Also see Richard's reviews of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, The Last Five Years, The Diplomats, and Red Velvet, Patrick's review of Dancing at Lughnasa, and Eddie's review of Grey Matter


Jerry Lee and Mindy Lym
Photo by Ed Smith
Once again, the Mountain Play Association has made a wise choice for their annual production at the Cushing Memorial Amphitheatre, the outdoor venue high on the slopes of Mt. Tamalpais. West Side Story is perfect fare for this theater. Much of the action takes place outside, and the story itself is big enough that it can comfortably inhabit the wide open spaces near the summit.

They also made wise choices in casting the two leads. As Tony, Jerry Lee brings a big voice to the stage, powerfully interpreting the stunning melodies of Leonard Bernstein and poetic lyrics of Stephen Sondheim. He never fails to reach even his highest notes, and wrings huge amounts of power and emotion from them. It's a winning vocal performance. Likewise, Mindy Lym as Marie has a lovely, polished soprano and an easy, pleasant rapport with her fellow performers.

The set by Michael Locher evokes the sense of urban decay and mean streets without seeming too dowdy or rundown. The purple faux brickwork adds a bit of flair, and the graffiti (including on a wrecked 1961 Plymouth coupe) reinforces the ongoing turf war between the Jets and the Sharks, the two rival gangs whose conflict serves as the impediment to Tony and Maria's budding relationship. A turntable upstage center delivers quick changes for a range of indoor scenes. Costumes by Heidi Leigh Hanson are perfect—the Sharks (and the other Puerto Rican neighbors) dress mostly in red, and the Jets (and their allies) in blue.

Led by conductor/musical director David Möschler, the orchestra does a mostly excellent job with this classic score, only occasionally getting a little loose during some of the more uptempo numbers.

Often you will hear a performer described as a "triple threat"—someone who can act, sing, and dance with equal skill. Unfortunately, there are no triple threats in this cast. In fact, there aren't really even any double threats. Lee and Lym both have wonderful voices, but their acting is often stiff and insincere. The chorus and supporting roles generally do a fine job with Nicole Helfer's choreography, but none of them can sing to the level the score requires. Other than the two leads, every singer was severely off-pitch throughout their solo opportunities at the performance I attended, and the chorus simply never blended, let alone produced pleasant harmonies. It's a shame that, with all the talent in the Bay Area, the Mountain Play Association couldn't find singers to do justice to some of the most beautiful songs in musical theater. It seems since they failed to find those triple threats, they settled for singers who struggle with acting and dancers who struggle with singing.

That said, a day at the Mountain Play—even if the quality is inconsistent—is a lovely way to spend a late spring afternoon.

West Side Story plays through June 19, 2016, at 2:00 pm. at the Cushing Memorial Amphitheatre in Mount Tamalpais State Park in Mill Valley CA. Guidance for driving, hiking (to or from) or shuttle bussing to the venue (as well as ticket information) is available at www.mountainplay.org. Follow their directions carefully to ensure an enjoyable experience. (Though they don't suggest bringing binoculars or opera glasses, I do.) Tickets are $40 for adults, $35 for seniors (65+), $30 for those 14-21 and $20 for children 4-13. A limited number of premium tickets (including padded stadium chairs) for reserved seating in a shaded area start at $60.


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