WEST SIDE STORY (Ivoryton Playhouse, CT)


Reviewed by Tony Annicone


Ivoryton Playhouse’s summer musical is “West Side Story”, the classic 1957 musical hit. Based on Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”, the story is as fresh and new to contemporary audiences as it was back in 1591 for the original play as it was in the 1950’s for the musical version. Hatred and violence don’t solve problems, they create new ones. Love and understanding of each other are the solutions to these problems not only in these shows but in real life. The well known story of Tony and Maria takes place in New York City. The outside forces of friends, enemies, gang members and adults keep them from fulfilling their dreams of everlasting happiness due to hatred and bigotry. This talented cast under the direction of Todd Underwood, delivers the goods in a powerful and poignant presentation with outstanding acting, singing and dancing which propels the audience to their feet at curtain call. Who could ask for anything more in this gut wrenching magnificent production at this historic theatre.

Todd takes this well written script and makes it soar in the comic aspects of the show. Just when you feel your heart is going to break in two, the script has a comic moment to lighten it up. Todd casts the show marvelously from the major roles to the minor ones. He is aided in this huge undertaking by musical director Mike Morris and his twelve piece orchestra. He makes the music stand out in the ballads and the up tempo numbers with his eye for annunciation and vocal training. The Bernstein and Sondheim score is excellently rendered by the musicians and the vocalists. The best group numbers are “The Quintet” and “Somewhere” with Annalise Cepero and Hillary Ekwall as lead vocalists in this latter number. One of the most important parts of this show is choreography and the audience isn’t disappointed here either. Todd who is also the choreographer, makes his cast dance their shoes off with ballet, modern, jazz dance with salsa and mambo to name a few. His dancing expertise is seen in “Prologue”, “Dance at the Gym” which stops the show, “Cool” with the men doing amazing splits, “America” and the breathtaking ballet to “Somewhere” sung beautifully by. Another standout dance segment is “The Rumble” which leads to the death of two main characters. The mixture of movements and direction of this fight at the end of Act 1 leaves the audience stunned but begging for more good things to come. The blending of these three elements with a talented cast make this the must see show of the summer season.

The two leads are amazing performers. Stephen Mir as Tony makes him into a strong hero that the audience can relate to from his first entrance onstage. His first number is usually a throw away number but Stephen makes “Something’s Coming” as important as his other numbers. He makes it as impressive as “Maria” and “Tonight” with his powerful tenor voice which soars off the charts especially impressive is his falsetto at the end of “Maria.” Stephen’s acting is strong with the love at first sight, the ensuing exuberant pure love, the horror of killing someone, the anguish of thinking your true love is dead and finally making your own death onstage believable. Mia Pinero as Maria is Stephen’s equal in every way. From her first scene in the dress shop she displays the spunkiness of Maria. Mia makes Maria a strong character who stands up for what she believes in. She and Stephen have a lot of chemistry together. Their duets are terrific together especially the fire escape number “Tonight” and “One Hand, One Heart” which is tender and emotional and “Somewhere” which starts off with everyone getting along at first. They capture the naivete of Tony and Maria, making the audience remember the first time they fell in love. Mia delivers a gutwrenching final scene when she yells at the others to kill her like they killed Tony. Luckily she also has the comic “I Feel Pretty” which lightens the mood at the start of Act 2. Mia just graduated from Montclair State University in New Jersey.

The two leads are strongly supported by the other cast members. The dancing in this show is fantastic by one and all. Playing gang leaders Riff and Bernardo are Conor Robert Fallon and Victor Borjas who are excellently cast. Both deliver strong performances especially in the confrontation scenes and the fight scene leading to their deaths. Conor does a marvelous job in “The Jet” song with his gang members and in “Cool” where exerts control over them especially hot headed Action who is always ready for a fight. Conor and Stephen portray best friends who are as close as brothers with their credo from “Womb to tomb”. Victor is topnotch as Bernardo with his strong dancing prowess in Dance at the Gym and in the Rumble. Beautiful brunette Natalie Madlon plays the spitfire girlfriend of Bernardo, Anita splendidly. She is a strong actress who sells the comic song “America” where she and the girls dance up a storm and in my favorite dramatic song “A Boy Like That” duet with Maria. Her hurt and anguish are displayed in this number and in the assault scene. After Anita is attacked by the Jets, she tells them Maria is dead. Natalie is a junior at Montclair State University.The Jets have become as depraved as the characters they just sang about in “Officer Krupke.” She delivers a powerful performance, leaving the stage in triumph over the hoodlums. Praise to the performers as the gang members  who knock the ball out of the park in this fabulous show. The Jet gang members are Pierre Marais as Baby John, the naive member who sings the female social worker in Krupke, Daniel Miller as Diesel who sings the Judge part, Max Weinstein as A-rab who sings the shrink part and Colin Lee as the hot headed Action who is always ready for a fight. The hard ass Lieutenant is wonderfully played by Rick Malone. So for a script that still resonates with audiences 60 years later, be sure to catch “West Side Story” at Ivoryton Playhouse. Tell them Tony sent you.

WEST SIDE STORY (5 to 23 July)

Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main St, Ivoryton, CT

1(860)767-9520 or www.ivorytonplayhouse.org

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