‘West Side Story’ marks a glorious return for Reagle

Nate Walsh, Christopher Mitchell, Jack Mullen*, Sam Griffin. Zach Eisenberg* and Seth Cooper in “West Side Story.” Courtesy Reagle Music Theatre/© Herb Philpott

By Rich Fahey

WALTHAM – Rachel Bertone is the whole package.

The award-winning director/choreographer has taken over as artistic director of the Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston from founder Robert Eagle, who retired in 2021, and her first production of Reagle’s 53rd summer season is a triumph.

Bertone has cast some remarkable young local talent along with some seasoned vets, and Reagle is marking its return to a summer season after two summers off with a sizzling production of the iconic musical “West Side Story” at the Robinson Theatre.

The production numbers where choreographer Bertone puts her own spin on Jerome Robbins’ original work combine precision movement with the energy and enthusiasm of the 27 members of the company. Highlight follows highlight, such as the first moments of the prologue, a pas de deux between the two gangs, the Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks, that finally gives way to Jack Mullen’s soaring lead as Riff on “Jet Song.”

Every production number  —  “Dance at the Gym,” “America,” “Cool” — explodes onto the stage and ups the ante from the previous number.

And when a lighter touch is required – such as in the beautifully staged “Somewhere” dream sequence —  Bertone is there to provide it.

And the voices? The vocals are exquisite throughout but the duets on “Tonight” and “One Hand, One Heart” with Blake Du Bois as Tony and Eevie Perez as Maria, both from the Boston Conservatory at Berklee, are simply sublime,

Eevie Perez and Blake Du Bois in “West Side Story.” Courtesy Reagle Music Theatre/© Herb Philpott

There is inspired work up and down the cast, including Jack Mullen and Diego Klock-Perez in the key roles of gang leaders Riff and Bernado, Bianca Rivera-Irions as a wonderful Anita, Reagle veteran Rick Sherburne as Doc, Todd Yard as Lt. Schrank, Nico JC Ochoa as Chino, Jean-Alfred Chavier as Sgt. Krupke and Conor Meehan as Gladhand.

A theatrical all-star team was assembled to bring “West Side Story” to life, from Robbins as director/choreographer, to Leonard Bernstein’s timeless score, with  lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by Arthur Laurents based on Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”

Some have decried “West Side Story” for its vivid and stark depiction of life on the streets in 1950s New York City, showing itself in the naked racism of Yard’s Lt. Schrank, charged with keeping a lid on the gang violence, and the language used by the gang members themselves. Theater is a snapshot of a time and a place, and the creators of the piece chose to make an accurate depiction of the way the characters of the time would act and speak.

Some of Bob Eagle’s trademarks have found their way into this production, including the large cast and music director Dan Rodriguez leading a full 20-piece orchestra that is able to give full voice to Bernstein’s score, which is quite simply one of the best in musical theater history with “Tonight,” “Maria,” “America,” and “I Feel Pretty.”

Many hands had to work together to bring Reagle back to life after Covid shut it down. Interim executive artistic director Linda Chin helped get things started with last December’s “Christmas Time in Concert” at the Robinson Theatre and then helped lead Reagle’s preparations for this season, which will also include Stephen Schwartz’s “Pippin” from August 4-14.

The devil is in the details, and Bertone and her assistants have left nothing to chance, including the deadly and harrowing rumble fight scene deftly choreographed by Angie Jepson.

Set designer Janie Howland vividly depicts a NYC streetscape, Franklin Meissner Jr’s lighting provides the requisite shadows and light while Robby Davis’s sound finds every seat in the theater. Tiffany Howard’s original costume designs span a colorful palette.

Classics age well, and never go out of style. “West Side Story” is as rich and vibrant as it was when it debuted more than 60 years ago.

The theatrical roadside is littered with companies that didn’t survive the shutdown that threatened to take down every company.

On Friday night, founder Eagle was in the house to see his legacy revived and continued in a glorious fashion. Welcome back, Reagle.

The Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston production of “West Side Story.” Based on a conception of Jerome Robbins. Book by Arthur Laurents. Music by Leonard Bernstein. Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Entire original production directed and choregraphed by Jerome Robbins.  Reagle Players production directed and choreographed by Rachel Bertone with choreography inspired by Jerome Robbins, Music direction by Dan Rodriguez. Scenic design by Janie Howland. Lighting design by Franklin Meissner Jr. Sound design by Robby Davis. Original costumes by   Tiffany Howard.  Technical direction by Lori E. Baruch.  At the Robinson Theatre through July 16. Tickets: reaglemusictheatre.org, call 781 891 5600, or at the box office.

Anna Viveros. Bianca Rivera-Irions and Marisa Pineda in “West Side Story.” Courtesy Reagle Music Theatre/© Herb Philpott