In Beverly, a timeless ‘West Side Story’ enchants
BEVERLY – Any show – even an enduring classic – benefits from a fresh new look.
But can “West Side Story” really be almost 60 years old? It seems only yesterday when it helped redefine the genre when it debuted on Broadway in 1957, electrifying audiences with Jerome Robbins’ groundbreaking choreography and a score that put about a half-dozen songs into the Great American Songbook.
North Shore Music Theatre’s production of “West Side Story” checks all the boxes when it comes to fine entertainment, with a young talented cast, some of whom are making their debuts as newly-minted members of Actors’ Equity Association, alongside proven talent.
The book by Arthur Laurents is, of course, loosely based on Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,”not too shabby for source material.
The storyline has the Jets trying to defend a piece of battered, broken city turf against what they see as encroachment by the Puerto Rican gang, the Sharks. They are all immigrants, of course, the Puerto Ricans more recently arrived.
The score was written by a young Leonard Bernstein – born just a few miles away from NSMT in Lawrence – and an up-and-comer named Stephen Sondheim, whose poetic lyrics foreshadowed his future brilliance.
The entire original production was conceived, directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins, who saw that the movements and the battles between two rivals gangs in New York City could actually be balletic in nature.
As Tony, Bronson Norris Murphy has the voice but he isn’t all that convincing when it comes to being the kind of street-wise kid that would make him a Jets mainstay; his singing and his dancing are just fine.
Evy Ortiz is a combination of young innocence and unbridled passion as Maria, and Michelle Alves is just as strong as the passionate, proud Anita, who leads the Shark women in a stirring, mocking ode to “America.”
The Jets are led by a solid Tyler John Logan as Riff, who is trying to lure Tony back into gang life after Tony left for a part-time job. Other Jets who stood out were Action (Bentley Black), Christopher Morrissey as Diesel and Hannah Balagot as Anybodys.
Alexander Gil Cruz is a smoldering presence as the Shark leader Bernardo while Salem State grad DJ Petrosino does a nice job as Chino, who is slated to wed Maria in an arranged marriage.
NSMT devotees are always ready to welcome David Coffee, performing in his 52nd production at the theater while gearing up for his annual turn as Scrooge in “A Christmnas Carol.” He lends gravitas and passion to the show as Doc, the drugstore owner who pleads for peace between the gangs.
John Wojda as Lt. Schrenk embodies the role of a hard-boiled, racist detective determined to keep trouble between the gangs contained, no matter what he has to do to prevent it. Rob Coughlan is a comic foil as the hapless Sgt. Krupke, memorably mocked in “Gee, Officer Krupke,” which allowed lyricist Sondheim to let his hair down and have some fun at a time in the production that screamed for some levity.
Choreographer Diane Laurenson is charged with putting her own stamp on the original choreography by Robbins and the dance numbers “Jet Song,” “Dance at the Gym,” “America” and “The Rumble” all jump off the stage while the “Somewhere Ballet” is exquisitely beautiful.
The songs are as relevant and heartfelt today as they were 60 years ago. The sentiments in “”Tonight,” “Something’s Coming,” “Maria,” etc., are simply timeless, while the five-part harmony in “The Tonight Quintet” still sends a chill down your spine.
Conductor Milton Granger leads a 16-piece orchestra that appears to be performing the full orchestrations, meaning none of the subtleties of the Bernstein-Sondheim score are missed.
If you are seeing “West Side Story” again, this production has all the necessary elements to remind you why you loved it in the first place. If it’s your first time, you’re in for a treat.
The North Shore Music Theatre production of “West Side Story.” Book by Arthur Laurents. Music by Leonard Bernstein. Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Original production conceived, directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins. Directed by Bob Richard. Choreographed by Diane Laurenson. Scenic design by Kyle Dixon. Lighting design by Jack Mehler Sound design by John Hanna. Music direction by Milton Granger. At the North Shore Music Theatre through Nov. 20 nsmt.org.