I’m George Walker for WFIU Arts. West Side Story opened this weekend at the IU Opera Theater.
When the show debuted on Broadway in 1957 I was just about the age of Baby John, the youngest member of the Jets. My friends and I spent a lot of time listening to the gang’s “Officer Krupke” hoping against hope they really didn’t just say “Krup you!” This time at the IU Opera, I enjoyed Jeremy Weiss as Action and the comedy, but it was the beautiful singing of Shayleen Norat and Hannah Benson as Maria and Anita in “I have a love” that came the closest to my heart.
This is the fifth time that Bernstein, Sondheim and Laurents’ drama has been at the IU Opera. Bloomington audiences first saw it at the old IU Theatre in 1981 and there have been performances at the IU Auditorium and the Cardinal Stage Company as well. For many in Saturday night’s audience at the Musical Arts Center, it was a blast from the past and for others a well traveled old friend.
This IU Opera Theater production features the usual strong singing and it has much more dancing that I recall from earlier efforts. Choreographer Sasha Janes has carefully calibrated the individual and the chorus’s efforts with stage director Michael Shell, they’re a very strong part of the production. Mark Lambert and Georgia Dalton from the Ballet put on a strong, graceful showing in the dream of “Somewhere.”
West Side Story takes place in a land of teenagers, but the adults are important. Garrett Godsey as Lieutenant Shrank is a neat bit of immigrant history. He’s an Irish cop who wants the next generation from Poland to clean the streets of the new generation from Puerto Rico. Joseph Madary was adept as his inept partner Sergeant Krupke. Quinn Galyan was Doc, the sympathetic drug store owner and reflection of the neighborhood. Kevin Masters was wonderfully funny with his mangled Spanish as Glad Hand trying to get the Sharks and Jets together in the “Dance at the Gym. “
Each time West Side Story appears it seems that some facet of the play pops out and simply drips with irony. This time it’s Tiffany Choe’s Rosalita lauding the joys of Puerto Rico. Every positive note that she sings is comically challenged, but they’ve also been wiped out by the recent devastating storms. When Anita and the girls sing about the persistence of hurricanes, it rings much truer than in past productions.
Bradley Bickhardt was Tony. His voice grew in confidence and power as the evening went on. Joey LaPlant was a fine singer and very good dancer as the Jets’ leader Riff. Alexandra Wilson was the athletic Jets wannabe, Anybody’s . Carl Rosenthal made a menacing Shark as Bernardo. Dennis Rendleman was a more sympathetic than usual Chino as Maria’s shy intended.
The massive, wide set design is by Steven Kemp. There are a lot of big moving pieces and his skilled crew kept them moving smoothly and efficiently. Except for the bright back drop of Tony and Maria’s dream sequence, lighting designer Mitchell Ost made this a dark and unforgiving West Side. Conductor David Neely who was just here for It’s a Wonderful Life is securely at the helm for the show.
In some productions the finale of West Side Story features Maria forcing the two chastened gangs to join in bearing the body of Tony from the stage. Saturday night after her impassioned cry of “Don’t touch him,” there was only Maria with Tony’s body alone together in tragedy on the wide, deep, dark empty stage.
The IU Opera Theater’s production of West Side Story continues on Friday April 13th and Saturday April 14th. You may find this and other reviews and interviews at WFIU.ORG/ARTS
At the theatre for you I’m George Walker