Sunday, May 06, 2007

West Side Story

Inconsistent ‘WEST SIDE STORY’ at Carousel

In the program for ‘WEST SIDE STORY,’ now on stage at Carousel Dinner Theatre, the show’s director, Marc Robin, states, “‘WEST SIDE STORY’ is one of the most remarkable shows in the musical theatre catalogue. It has everything: great story, challenging dance sequences, unforgettable music and characters and enough conflict to span five musicals.”

Robin is right on the mark. Often appearing on most musical theatre aficionado’s top five list of great shows, in a good production, the script is a sure-fire audience pleaser.

Carousel’s production has many strong elements, but fails to reach its potential because of an uninspired male corps, dancing which feigned intensity, and a shallow performance by one of the major cast members. The result was polite, if not prolonged applause at the curtain call.

‘WEST SIDE STORY’ uses Shakespeare’s ‘ROMEO AND JULIET’ as its base. In this version two opposing cultural groups conflict over the right to mark off their psychological and physical territory. Set in the west side of New York, the Jets, a gang composed of second generation “Americans” of various ethnicities, conflict with the Sharks, new immigrants from Puerto Rico. The ridiculousness of their warring comes to a head when Tony, a former member of the Jets, falls in love with Maria, whose brother is the leader of the Sharks. A series of killings spells disaster for all.

Set to Leonard Bernstein’s amazing music and Stephen Sondheim’s poignant lyrics, the perfectly integrated book by Arthur Laurents has the story unfold in emotional detail through not only song, but dance. The original choreography by Jerome Robins was some of the finest ever conceived for the theatre.

The show’s score includes such classics as “Something’s Comin,’” “Maria,” “America,” “One Hand, One Heart,” “I Feel Pretty” and “Somewhere.”

Carousel’s production is blessed with some strong performances. Stephanie Iannarino is glorious as Maria. She sings, acts and dances exceptionally well. She makes the play’s final scene compelling due to her well-crafted intensity.

Nathan Scherich starts slowly as Tony, but builds into the role. At times his voice is powerful, hitting the high notes with ease. At other times he goes into a falsetto to achieve the needed sound and at times sings words rather than meanings. His acting is quite believable.

Julie Kotarides (Anita) displays the right Latin temperament, sings well and dances powerfully. As her lover, David Villella creates a believable Bernardo. Jonelle Margallo’s solo in “Somewhere” was emotionally on-target. The female corps, especially those portraying Puerto Ricans, were excellent.

However, in a very pivotal role, Matthew Steffens (Riff) is extremely weak. His acting is shallow, his singing off-key and his character development lacking. Much the same can be said for many of the male chorus. From the opening number where the stalking out of territory lacked reality and emotional tension, to the gym dance, through the rumble, the acceptable choreography was ruined by the lack of spontaneity and dynamism on the part of the male corps. The only male ensemble highlight was the delightful “Gee, Officer Krupke.” It is surprising that a professional theatre of Carousel’s repute, couldn’t find male dancers and actors of higher quality, especially to play major roles.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Carousel’s ‘WEST SIDE STORY,’ in spite of some strong performances, is less than it should be. The main problem lies in the hands of many of the male members of corps and a lack of fine honing by director Mark Robin.