WEST SIDE STORY review

by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
The FSCJ Artist Series opened its first Broadway series production with” West Side Story.” It is a fabulous production and one you don’t want to miss. Final performances are Thursday, December 6th at 7:30PM, Friday, December 7th at 8PM, Saturday, December 8th at 2PM and 8PM, and Sunday, December 9th at 1:30 and 7:00PM, at the Times Union Center in downtown Jacksonville. For tickets call 904-632-3373 or visit the Artist Series website at artistseriesjax.org.
Composed by Leonard Bernstein, with lyrics by Steven Sondheim, book by Arthur Laurents and choreographed/directed by Jerome Robbins, “West Side Story” debuted in 1957 and has attained the status of one of the greatest achievements in the history of musical theatre. All the famous men listed above are in the Theatre Hall of Fame. Little did they know when they created an updated musical based one of the world’s most popular love stories, Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” that it would become as esteemed and celebrated as the Bard’s play itself.
Remarkably, the musical tells the entire story compressed into a 24-hour tempest of love and death. Two rival gangs with different ethnic backgrounds, the Jets (Polish-American) and the Sharks (Puerto Rican), battle over a share of the neighborhood turf, while a boy Tony and a girl Maria from opposing sides meet at a dance and fall in love.
“West Side Story” has been so successful because its songs quickly became favorites and have remained so. Just to hear that extraordinary music once again and sung so well by this talented and energetic cast is alone worth the price of admission. With “Maria,” “Somewhere,” “America,” “One Hand, One Heart,” “I Feel Pretty,” “Gee, Officer Krupke,” and “Tonight,” it is difficult to pick a favorite, they are all so good.
Besides being renowned for its songs, “West Side Story “ is equally know for its choreography. Here, the dances were big and bold and filled the entire stage. The excitement and quality of the dancing met with enthusiastic applause from the audience.
The sets designed by James Youmans are excellent, featuring scrims and set pieces that convey the character of the nitty-gritty New York setting, with looming skyscrapers, elevated bridges, brick walls, and fire escapes.
The costumes design by David Woolard took us back to New York in the 60’s especially those for the women who wore bright dresses with a Latin flare.
The leads Addison Reid Coe as Tony and MaryJoanna Grisso as Maria are outstanding and they sang their roles as well as we have ever heard them. Their duets are beautifully performed and their solos display their marvelous trained voices. Michelle Alves as Anita, Maria’s best friend, gave a spirited performance and provided lots of humor in her rendition of “America” with the other ladies.
This traveling version of “West Side Story” is based on the highly acclaimed 2009 Broadway revival. One difference we noted was the Puerto Rican Sharks speaking and singing in Spanish on occasion.
If you have never had the opportunity to experience “West Side Story,” then by all means be sure to take in this energetic production with its cast of 34. If you have seen it before, you will find this version as exciting as any you have ever seen in the past. “West Side Story” is a work of art that throbs with emotion and is a revered classic. Don’t miss it.

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