Pat Launer, Center Stage on KSDS JAZZ88
June 26, 2015
Anyone who thinks a 58 year-old musical won’t resonate should consult the daily news. There are still street gangs, and violent turf battles. One line in “West Side Story” says it all, chillingly. The hardened New York cop snarls at the Puerto Rican kid: “I’ve got the badge and you’ve got the skin.” Tell me that’s not relevant.
Fortunately, love still crosses impossible boundaries and fosters unexpected alliances. “West Side Story” is a brilliant musical riff on “Romeo and Juliet,” set on the tough streets of 1950s New York. In both the 16th and 20th century tragedies, there’s still hope at the end that some good will grow from the seeds a fearless young couple has sown.
Now, Lamb’s Players Theatre takes on the musical behemoth, composed by Leonard Bernstein, with book by Arthur Laurents and lyrics by a young Stephen Sondheim. His clever, cunning humor is evidenced in the comical “Gee, Officer Krupke ,” a show-stopper in this production, thanks to a spectacular performance by Daniel Kermidas as the Jets’ Action.
Michelle Alves, who performed the role in the national tour, is terrific as Anita, with her sexy moves and bittersweet, hard-won wisdom. Colleen Kollar -Smith’s choreography is wonderful, paying tribute to the iconic Jerome Robbins original, with its own spin. The dance ensemble is excellent and energetic, and the singing is superb, backed by a first-rate, onstage orchestra, helmed by Patrick Marion.
At the center are Kevin Hafso-Koppman as a gentle, sensitive Tony, and Olivia Hernandez as wide-eyed, ingenuous Maria. They connect effectively, but their voices are a mismatch: his a smooth Broadway sound ; hers operatic, with excessive tremolo.
Under Deborah Gilmour-Smyth’s direction, the acting dominates; all the characters and interactions are convincing, though the immigrant accents are variable, and absent in the Sharks’ leader.
The lighting, sound and costumes enhance the bi-level, metal and chain-link set. Jordan Miller’s fight choreography deserves special mention.
While this pared-down production isn’t flawless, it’s robust, and will likely solidify during the run. If only the murderous story would become outdated.
“West Side Story ,” at Lamb’s Players Theatre, runs through August 4.
©2015 PAT LAUNER