WESTON — Weston Playhouse Theatre Company continues its summer season with "West Side Story," the iconic 1957 musical with book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and original choreography by Jerome Robbins. Mounting a work that requires passion and tests vocal ranges and dancing skills is no easy task. Last Friday, Weston's production of this urban tragedy of two star-crossed lovers delivered in every way. It starts with the music, composed as well as arranged by Leonard Bernstein. There is an urgency and complexity to the score that was conveyed immediately by the unseen orchestra, led by music director Larry Pressgrove. Guided by choreographer Felicity Stiverson, the dance numbers and in particular the rumble between the two gangs, the Jets and Sharks, communicated a grace and even danger.
Director Tim Fort helped marshal the cast of 27, comprised largely of current or former members of Weston's Young Company and seasoned veterans of other productions of the musical brought in to reprise some of the prominent roles. Many of us are familiar with songs such as "Tonight," "America" and "Somewhere" through cover versions by Barbara Streisand and others. It was thrilling to see such a talented ensemble place these wonderful numbers in the context of this moving story, loosely based upon Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet."
Max Sheldon portrayed Tony, the reluctant Jet who falls head over heels for Maria, whose brother, Bernardo, leads the rival Puerto Rican gang. Sheldon evinced his character's optimism and determination to love Maria, even as events escalated out of control. His powerful tenor easily tackled the vocal demands of songs such as "Tonight," "Maria" and "Something's Coming."
Evy Ortiz, who toured the United States as Maria in the first national Broadway tour of "West Side Story," offered a soprano voice that soared through"Tonight" or, in "Somewhere," quietly broke your heart as Maria implored Tony that "there's a place for us." The grounded performances by Ortiz and Sheldon as Maria and Tony never let us forget that "West Side Story" was about a boy and girl in love.
Courtney Arango brought a vivaciousness and toughness to Anita, the girlfriend of Bernardo and confidante of Maria. Her rendition of "America" with the Shark girls and Megumi Nakamura as Rosalia was a hoot. In "A Boy Like That," following Bernardo's death at Tony's hand, Arango ably switched gears as Anita admonished Maria to "stick to your own kind."
Jordan J. Ford, as Riff, the leader of the Jets, showed how his character, unlike Tony, only saw the world as turf to be defended. DJ Petrosino, playing Bernardo for the sixth time in his career, brought a certain menace to Maria's older brother. All of the actors comprising the Jets and Sharks demonstrated considerable agility and precision moving about the relatively small proscenium stage. In "Officer Krupke," the Jets hilariously mocked any attempts to corral them, arguing in a memorable Sondheim lyric, that "we're depraved on account of we're deprived."
Russell Parkman's set of fire escape urban exteriors contributed to the immediacy of this production of "West Side Story," which, in the words of Fort, remains a hopeful plea for common understanding and humaneness. Performances of "West Side Story" continue at the Weston Playhouse through August 4. For ticket information, call the WPTC box office at (802) 824-5288 or visit its website at www.westonplayhouse.org.