The landmark musical West Side Story featuring a score by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, a book by Arthur Laurents and choreography by Jerome Robbins made its world premiere on August 19, 1957 at the National Theatre. The latest Broadway revival also tried out at the National in 2008. It is only fitting that the current North American tour of West Side Story is returning to its birth home for its final stop.
As soon as the graffiti proscenium backdrop is lifted, we are introduced to the Sharks, consisting of entirely Puerto Ricans, and the Jets, an all-American gang, giving us a foreboding taste of their sheer rivalry in the Neighborhood of the Upper West Side in New York City, setting us up for “Prologue.” Joey McKneely does an extraordinary job reproducing the choreography and stimulating the very heart and pure essence of what Jerome Robbins intended for his performers to rip out on stage.
…a beautiful love story…
Bernardo (Michael Spencer Smith) owns the shark turf commanding piercing presence through slick choreographed acrobatic moves along with the rest of his gang. After setting the tone, Riff, the leader of the Jets gang, (Benjiman Dallas Redding), along with the rest of the group packs a dramatic punch in “Jet Song,” When Riff meets up with Tony, the cofounder of the Jets, (Jarrad Biron Green) to persuade him into going for a war council with Bernardo, Tony passionately rips his heart and soul out in “Something’s Coming.” Green not only has the vocal chops, and stamina to soar through such a difficult range, he colors each word vibrantly with full intent and purpose. The gangs form a meeting at a dance held in the neighborhood gym in order to make full arrangements for the future rumble. In turn, a friendly competitive cakewalk wavers back and forth into an explosive dance Mambo showdown with the entire company in “Dance at the Gym.”
In the middle of bone-chilling fireworks led by the entire company, a beautiful love story begins to blossom between Tony and Bernardo’s sister, Maria, (MaryJoanna Grisso). Instantly we are drawn into a dreamy sequence between the two in which they represent the kind of love only dreams and movies are made of. The chemistry between Green and Grisso, both acting-wise and vocally in “Tonight” is flawless. Anita, (Michelle Alves)’s sultry, magnificent belt carries the colorful, bubbly number, “America.” Here we see a practically perfect choreographed balance within the Shark girls as a rich ensemble number.
As we go further into the story, Tony and Maria’s relationship begins to evolve into a more developed couple as we see them conducting themselves in a fantasy marriage. Together, Green and Grisso’s voices are heavenly as they portray Tony and Maria’s vows singing, “make of our hearts” in “One Hand, One Heart,” they automatically captivated mine. The urgency and vocal dynamics behind the entire ensemble led by Green, Grisso, and Alves is stellar.
Like in Romeo and Juliet, one of the following issues is raised: How can we see true love break the spell of bad blood running so deeply within the history between families/socio-cultural groups? Standouts throughout the show include Jarrad Biron Green, Michelle Alves, MaryJoanna Grisso, and Gabriela Albo as they are all fresh young actors who I’m very excited to see where they will go as they head further into their acting careers.
Running Time: 2 hours and 40 minutes with one intermission.
Advisory: Adult themes and violent content.
West Side Story is now playing through June 8, 2014 at The National Theatre, which is located on 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. NW Washington, DC 20004. For tickets click here.