entire contents copyright 2012 by Tony Annicone
"West Side Story"
Reviewed by Tony Annicone
La Salle Players closing show of their season is Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim's "West Side Story". It was inspired by William Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet". Set in New York City in the mid-1950's, the musical explores the rivalry between the Jets and the Sharks, two teenage street gangs of different ethnic backgrounds. The members of the Sharks are taunted by the Jets, a white working-class group. The young protagonist, Tony, a former member of the Jets, falls in love with Maria, the sister of Bernardo, the leader of the Sharks.
The dark theme, sophisticated music, extended dance scenes, and focus on social problems marked a turning point in American musical theatre. Hatred and violence don't solve problems they create new one with love and understanding others as the solution in real life as well as in both "Romeo and Juliet" and "West Side Story". The insightful direction of Brother Michael Mc Kenery and Tom Haynes is rewarded by the thunderous applause and a standing ovation at the close of the show. The show is Brother Michael's farewell show at La Salle. He started the Arts Program at La Salle and will sorely be missed by one and all.
Brother Michael and Mr. Haynes cast the show excellently with their multi-talented high school students. They make this show one of the best high school shows I have seen. They are helped in this task by musical director Mr. Jeffrey Allard and his orchestra. The score is rendered beautifully by the musicians and vocalists and Fred Frabotta is the conductor of the 15 piece orchestra. Jeff's attention to diction and vocal training shines through. The most difficult number is the "Tonight" quintet and he has the Sharks, Jets, Anita, Tony and Maria pull it off with ease.
One of the most important ingredients of the show is the choreography by Ann Morsilli. She makes this cast dance up a storm with ballet, jazz, mambo, cha cha and modern dance movements in various numbers especially in the "Prologue", "Jet's number, "Dance at the Gym","Cool" and "America". "Somewhere" sequence with ballet and Adrianna Cancelliere as the vocalist was an awesome tear jerking scene, rendered splendidly by the cast. Another standout is the choreographed "Rumble" which leads to the death of two of the characters. Fight choreography is by James Beauregard. The mixture of the movements and direction of the fight at the end of Act 1 leaves the audience stunned and begging for more good things to follow in the second act.
The two leads do a fantastic job. Justin Pires makes Tony, a strong hero you can relate to from his first entrance onstage. Tony's first number is "Something's Coming" which is a foreshadowing of his relationship with Maria. His terrific tenor voice soars in that song as well as a beautiful falsetto in "Maria" and a powerful, poignant rendition of "Tonight" and "One Hand, One Heart" with Maria. He acts as well as he sings. The love at first sight, the exuberant pure love, the horror of killing someone, the anguish of thinking your loved one is dead and finally making your own death on stage believable are handled phenomenally.
Danielle Tocco is topnotch as Maria. From her first scene in the dress shop she shows the spunkiness of the character. She has a lovely soprano voice which she shows off in her songs. She and Justin have wonderful chemistry together that you shed a multitude of tears when Tony is killed. The directors have Riff and Bernardo appear to lead the cast carrying Tony's dead body out that is a magnificent and poignant ending to this show. Their duets are marvelous especially the fire escape duet "Tonight". They capture the naivete of Tony and Maria, making everyone remember their first love. They also do topnotch work in "One Hand, One Heart" and the heart wrenching "Somewhere". Danille and the girls have fun in "I Feel Pretty" which shows off her comic side.
These two leads are strongly supported by the other cast members, making this rise far above the usual high school fare with strong acting, singing and dancing. Gang leaders Riff played by Colin Whitney and Bernardo played by Diego Guevara are very well cast. Both deliver strong performances especially in the confrontation scenes and the ultimate death scene. This scene is very realistic and frightening. Colin also does a marvelous job in "The Jets Song" and "Cool" where he exerts his control over the gang especially the hotheaded Action who is always itching for a fight. Colin also shows off his strong dancing prowess in the show. Diego and his gang members sing and dance in the opening proglogue, dance at the gym and the quintet of "Tonight".
Katrina Pavao plays Anita, the spitfire girlfriend of Bernardo. She delivers a powerful performance in this role. Katrina is dynamite in the comic "America" sung and danced with the girls with Lauren Garafano as the dumb, Rosalia singing how much she likes Puerto Rico. She also sings my favorite song , the dramatic "A Boy Like That/I Have a Love" duet with Maria. Her anguish, hurt and anger are displayed in that song as well as in the assault scene in the drugstore. The Jets have turned into the depraved characters they just sang about in "Officer Krupke" which is a comic gem of a song by the Jets. They are in perpetual motion throughout it and the performance stops the show with sustained laughter. After Anita is attacked she turns on them, showing her strength by saying Maria is dead. Katrina also sings and dances up a storm during the show.
The usually underwritten roles of the adults are handled with the right amount of conviction by Joseph Byrd who plays the hard nose Lt. Schrank, by Matthew Barrette who is hilarious as the foppish Glad Hand, by Humza Mirza as Officer Krupke and John Thorsen as Doc, the weak drugstore owner who finally develops a backbone by throwing the Jets out after they attack Anita and slaps Tony into reality when he tells him Maria is dead. The topnotch Jet gang members are played by Matthew Smith as Action,(he sings the lead in the Krupke song doing a terrific job)Gregory Martin as Diesel, Joseph DeLeo as A-rab,Christopher Lysik as Snowboy,Aaron Mackisey as Baby John, Noah Smith as Gee-Tar, Ean Drezek as Mouthpiece, Lucio Andreozzi as Tiger and Benjamin Smith as Big Deal. Aryn Mello Pryor is terrific as Anybodys, the tomboy. She plays the part with a lot of grit and heart, helping Tony escape after the rumble. They sing and dance their hearts out in these roles as do the Sharks. Kudos to everyone who makes "West Side Story" a fabulous, outstanding musical and what a fitting tribute to Brother Michael's farewell production.