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Monday, 06 January 2014 00:09

'West Side Story' romances the audience

Written by Tina Farmer
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'West Side Story' romances the audience
fabulousfox.com

In "West Side Story" saturated colors against shadow-filled backgrounds and the boldly familiar choreography of Jerome Robbins, as reproduced by Joey McKneely, reference the tradition of this now classic show. Troika Entertainment's production at the Fox refreshed that tradition with spectacularly rhythmic dance and an elegantly woven English and Spanish language interplay.

As always, the opening song set the tone for the show, and it did not disappoint. The number was strong, masculine ,and energetic. Robbins' choreography is ever present, but I also noticed what seemed an added emphasis on the snaps, claps, and foot stomps throughout the show. The already rhythmic dance numbers were heightened by this percussive element, creating an immersive effect that I wished carried through the entire performance.

The use of Spanish for many of the scenes involving the Sharks and their Puerto Rican families was another choice that added real depth and intimacy to the production. I have never scene a production of "West Side Story" with as much Spanish incorporated, and I very much enjoyed the choice. I know the story well and have enough Spanish in my vocabulary to follow and appreciate the show, and the beauty of the language.

In particular, I found the scenes between Anita, a spirited Michelle Alves, and Maria, the graceful and enchanting Mary Joanna Grisso, vibrant and delightfully present. Alves and Grisso play well off each other, and each actress was fully committed to her character. Both have strong, true singing voices and their second act duet was a pleasure.

Complementing Alves and Grisso, Jarrad Biron Green, as Tony, Michael Spencer Smith, as Bernardo, Benjiman Dallas Redding, as Riff, and Rosalie Graziano, as Anybodys, stood out in memorable performances. The entire cast was strong, and I did not notice an off-harmony, dropped step, or missed line throughout the production. There were a few moments when I found the stylistic choices a bit over-the-top, somewhat dating the choreography, but the ensemble was sharp and on-point throughout.

The show was filled with a number of standout moments and bright performances, creating a satisfying and entertaining evening of theater. Among the highlights, for me, were the very humorous dance chaperone, a lovely balcony scene and duet between Tony and Maria, Anybody's lead on "Somewhere," and, naturally, the dance numbers, such as the lively "America," syncopated "Cool," and the dream sequence.

The set design, lighting, and orchestra all served the production well adding atmosphere to the theater and enhancing the tone without overpowering the performances. Production stage manager Molly Goodwin, head carpenter Jared Bracket, and music director J. Michael Duff nicely balance the elements to emphasize the tension and drama, while director David Saint skillfully layers the story and action.

My problem with the show was a lack of emotional connection and consistency. The show moved along at a quick pace, but lacked somewhat in building tension and holding my interest, particularly during the acted scenes. There were many moments that grabbed my emotions, and the big emotional highlights were all well delivered, but the periods between the moments felt flat at times.

"West Side Story" is a beautifully conceived and developed show, and the production did not disappoint. The cast expertly delivered the appeal, sincerity and youthful idealism of this classic story, particularly in song and dance. On a cold and damp evening, the Fox Theatre was filled with the light, energy, and life of "West Side Story." The production ran January 3 through January 5, 2014, for reservations or information about upcoming shows, visit www.fabulousfox.com.

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