Produced by: Broadway By The Bay
Featuring: Michael Birr, Jessica Rose Maxey, Joshua Siegel, Alex Cortinas, Charlie Fields, Emily Brady, Daniel Rubio, Derrick Contreras, Ariel Daly, Danila Burshteyn, Jeannette Jeffrey, Patrick Brewer, Samantha Pistoresi, Zachary Padlo, Connor Smith, Nikita Burshteyn, Mary Kalita, Taylor Iman Jones, Jesse Cortez, Alex Rodriguez, Salim Razawi, Katy Tang, Miko Ison, Katie Edralin, Elizabeth Gee, Javi Harnley, Phillip Davis, Neal Pascua, Diana Esquerra, Samantha Cardenas, Vinh Nguyen, RJ San Jose, Clint Calimlim, Camille Edralin, Catrina Manaham, Jerry Navarro, Ray D'Ambrosio, Rich Matli, Wes Chick
Directed by: Amanda Folena
Choreographed by: Nicole Helfer; fight choreography by Josh Marx
Music direction by: Sean Kana
Running time: 150 minutes, one intermission
When: August 14-30, 2015
Where: Fox Theatre, 2215 Broadway Street, Redwood City, California
Tickets: $47 to $69; call 1-650-579-5565 or visit broadwaybythebay.org.
When: September 5-13, 2015
Where: Golden State Theatre, 417 Alvarado Street, Monterey, California
Tickets: $39 to $59; call 1-831-649-1070 or visit goldenstatetheatre.com.
There's a lot to like about Broadway By The Bay's production of "West Side Story," now on stage at the Fox Theatre in Redwood City, but my favorite thing is the pit orchestra, directed by Sean Kana.
It is an excellent orchestra, and good-sized. I peeked into the pit at intermission on opening night, and they were squashed in there like refugees on the last boat out. I don't have a numerical count, but I can tell you they performed Leonard Bernstein's beautiful score with excellence, and I call myself lucky to have heard it.
And yes, there were actors, singers, dancers strutting and fretting their two and a half hours upon the stage, and they were swell. I particularly liked the female chorus, which sounded to my partially educated ear as if at least three-part harmonies were being sung, in voices that sounded like we might want crystal goblets to ring out when toasts are made.
"America" and "I Feel Pretty" especially chimed with beauty. "America" was very funny in delivery, with this fun, delightful cast.
The male chorus, by comparison, tended to sound like just a bunch of guys all singing the same note, but when you're talking about street thugs, maybe that's just the way it works.
The grandfathered-in gang, the Jets, are cranky because Puerto Ricans the Sharks have moved in to share the turf. One of the Jets, Tony, has sort of grown out of that whole street-fighting thing and isn't interested, but gets dragged in when his buddy, Riff, sets a rumble with the Sharks.
But then Tony sees Maria recently arrived from the island across a crowded dance floor, and love enters the picture.
Just remember, this is based on "Romeo and Juliet." Don't wait for a happy ending.
Samantha Cardenas is a spunky and joy-filled Maria, at least till people start dying and a happy ending evaporates. She has a lovely, powerful voice, and is brilliant in singing harmonies with Nikita Burshteyn, who is Tony. Burshteyn tends to start songs rather tenatively, weakly even, but then usually rises to the tune with power.
We all know this story, right? Based on Romeo and Juliet, updated by Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, Arthur Laurents and Jerome Robbins to New York in the 1950s. Instead of Montagues and Capulets, we have Jets and Sharks, rival street gangs.
It is chock-a-block with great tunes, from "Jet Song" to "Maria" to "America" to "Tonight" to "Cool" to "Somewhere" to "Gee, Officer Krupke."
Forget whistling a tune from this show while leaving the theater; there are so many known, ear-worm songs that people whistle them going in to the theater.
Alex Rodriguez, who was overwhelmingly brilliant as Emcee in Broadway By The Bay's excellent production of "Cabaret" in 2013, is a muscular, proud, gym-rat Bernardo. Taylor Iman Jones plays Bernardo's girlfriend, Anita, and she is a powerhouse actress with good pipes. Rodriguez and Jones don't show much in the way of sexual chemistry, however, although it is called for in the script. Maybe they will find a way as the show goes on.
Jones and Rodriguez were teamed in 2014 at Berkeley Playhouse, where she was Mary Poppins and he was Bert.
I count 39 names in the cast list. During the show, I thought about how happy they must be, to have the opportunity to take part in this huge, classic, brilliant Broadway musical. Huzzah! It's wonderful to see all this great dancing and singing.
Amanda Folena, who is leaving the post of artistic director at Broadway By The Bay after a precious few years of helping to improve production quality, directed this show with proper brio. It moves along at a good pace, with all good actors and all good dancers. Choreography is by Nicole Helfer, and includes some very nice touches.
After the show someone remarked to me that the fighting choreography by Josh Marx looked very realistic, but I disagree. That person just must never have seen a real fight. But, Marx' choreography was very hip, very cool, and fit beautifully with Bernstein's amazing urban score. Helfer's work for the song "Cool" brought that whole 1950s hipness to life. Great fun to see and hear.
That same person said she had trouble with the sound mix, by Jon Hayward, but for me, in row K, it was great. (Yes, sound mix can seem very different, depending on where you are seated.) I could hear every song but one, with a lovely blend of orchestra and voice. The only black eye in that regard was when Cardenas' microphone died during "I Feel Pretty," and I could really only hear her when she was pointing her face right at me. A glitch, easily fixed.
Lighting, by Joe D'Emilio, was effective and helped the colorful show, except for when stage-side lights were used, and sometimes blinded us in the audience.
Scenic design Kelly James Tighe put the mean streets on stage in backdrops, with some of the company's beloved metal scaffolding on hand for climbing and stunts. Somebody backstage hit the wrong thing at one point, apparently, and the entire skyline of New York City shook, but that is a small thing.
Email John Orr at email@example.com