The beloved musical “West Side Story” is based on Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” In its presentation of the Jerome Robbins masterwork, Park Playhouse is staying true to the show’s glorious heritage.
The overture, or chorus, is an extended ballet skillfully choreographed by Mitchell A. Finke. Warring families, or gangs, clash effectively. And the first number, “The Jet Song,” makes the audience aware that, for the young men of this West Side New York City neighborhood, the gang is the only “family” they have.
The set by Venustiano Borromeo is a meticulously rendered street scene with brick walls, high, lighted windows and the requisite balcony (in this case a fire escape). And it seamlessly accommodates the many locations of the show’s action.
The story (you know it well) revolves around the two young lovers, Tony and Maria. Maria (Natalie Katherine Stephens) is a recently arrived Puerto Rican transplant who has been brought to the city to marry her brother’s friend Chino (Gregory Marsh). He is a member of the Sharks, which is a gang rivaling the Jets. She falls in love with Tony (Matthew Joseph Greenfield), a former member of the Jets. Because of their love, Tony is determined to stop any fighting between the two gangs and make peace. His efforts fail, however, and a rumble ensues. Riff (Matthew Winning), Tony’s best friend, and Bernardo (Perry Young), Maria’s brother, are both killed.
While the original is carried out over four days, this play is condensed into one. The action, advanced with expert skill by director Owen M. Smith, moves along beautifully to the play’s final tragedy.
Stephens and Greenfield create the young, star-crossed lovers with a chemistry that is truly magical. If their voices are not always up to the challenges of the complex score (Stephens has a distracting vibrato and Greenfield’s range is often lacking), their obvious love is touching and true. Playing Anita, Bernardo’s sister, Amanda Serrano is a dynamic presence. She captures the lusty comedy and the deep tragedy of this stock character (the spitfire) with vigor and nuance. Young is a drop-dead handsome Bernardo whose rage is barely held in check.
Director Owens has assembled a truly outstanding cast for this show. They are, for the most part young, their energy never flags and they handle the fine choreography and the gorgeous harmonies beautifully. Stand-outs in this energetic cast include Don Squire (Doc), Tiffany McCormack (Anybodys), Gabriel Aguilar (Action), Emily Curro (Rosalia), and Keegan Burke Falotico ((Big Deal).
Having said that, it must be noted that the sound system at the playhouse, as it has in past seasons, created enormous problems on opening night. Static, the annoying shriek of feed-back, and mikes that went in and out were a distraction. Lighting glitches and one very important sound glitch may be cleared up as the show evolves. I hope these problems can be alleviated, for the show is worth an evening in the park.
‘West Side Story’
WHERE: Park Playhouse,Washngton Park, Albany
WHEN: Through Aug. 17
HOW MUCH: $10 for reserved eating; other seats free
MORE INFO: 434-0776