West Side Story

by Dick Kerekes
The Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra and the Alhambra Dinner Theatre completed a four performance run of the 2nd joint venture of the season, with the Bernstein/Sondheim classic musical West Side Story. This excellent production was well received by enthusiastic audiences at all performances and I hope this means more of the same next season.
The plot is well known to musical theatre fans since this show has been around since the l950s. This was a modern retelling of the Romeo and Juliet then, but unfortunately the story of hostile teen-age gangs still exists and in many more cities than just New York now. While the story is not beautiful, the score is one of the most beautiful ever composed in musical theatre.
This was a full production, with several realistic sets designed by David Dionne that were very impressive. Johnny Pettegrew designed the very dramatic lighting and the fight scenes were exceptionally exciting visually. The costumes by Camala Pitts and Dorinda Quiles were colorful and I especially liked the ladies l950s styles.
Fabio Mechetti conducted the Orchestra which was in the pit this time and it was a real treat to hear the wonderful music with such rich fullness and texture. Tod Booth cast the show and directed assisted by Robert Rupp. Besides choreographing the show, Conrad De’Andrea also played the role of Chino in the Sharks gang.
The cast was exceptionally good from top to bottom, with excellent voices from all the participants. The three non singing roles were convincingly played by Henry Brewster as Doc, Robert Frernzel as Officer Krumpke and Kenneth Uibel as Shrank. Xander Chauncey, who was so popular as Joseph in last year’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, as impressive as the leader of the Jets, Riff. Speaking of the Jets, Nicholas Sacks, Alex Nordin, Tanner Lane and Leelynn Osborn did one of my favorite numbers in the show “Gee, Officer Krupke” with a lot of energy and fun and it was one of the crowd favorite at the matinee.
James Kinney was picture perfect as Bernardo, the leader of the Sharks that also included Jeremy Williams and Samson Tuliao Jr. The Jet girls included Alexia Adcock, Kimberly Cooper York, Michelle Myers with Douglas Anderson School of the Arts’ Senior, Jessica Booth as the tom boy Anybody’s. Jill Nicklaus was marvelous as Anita, Bernardo’s sister and the leader of the Puerto Rican girls that also included Bryce Erdman, Chelas Burns and Theresa Patterson.
The two leads could not have been cast any better. Joshua Bond as Tony, the tall handsome one who commanded authority just by his demeanor. Bond has an excellent voice and wonderful stage presence. La’Tarsha Long, is a Jacksonville native, who at the age of eleven started her professional show business career in The Wiz at the Alhambra Dinner Theatre. Since then she has taken extensive vocal training and has performed in musical theater and opera all over the country. She sang the songs to perfection, and every note came alive as she lifted the audience to ecstatic heights with her remarkable voice. She scored high points in the acting department as well.
The only glitch at this performance was the sound system, which worked well on all the solos but not on the spoken dialogue especially when there were several people involved, it was difficult to understand what was said. Larger speakers, like those used by road show musicals that come to the TU center would help. Over all it was a perfectly wonderful theatre experience with good acting, dancing and singing in a musical that is and will always be one of America’s greatest musical achievements.
Thanks Alhambra and Symphony for bringing a unique theatrical event to this city. Let’s have more.