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WEST SIDE STORY presented by The Carnegie through Jan. 18. Click here for more information on the production. I attended the opening night performance.
One of the greatest strengths of this production if the high-energy and physically-challenging choreography by Jay Goodlett. Even better is a cast young and talented enough to pull it off. “The Prologue” and “Mambo” are well-done and very enjoyable to watch. Also very strong was the orchestra, with music direction by William White.
From a performance standpoint, Layan Elwazani does excellent work as Anita. Elwazani has a beautiful voice and creates a believable, vulnerable and strong-willed character. With Layan leading one trio and Tina deAlderete the other, “America” was extremely well-done and my favorite musical theater number in the show. The number also showcases the great costume work by Joy Galbraith.
Also turning in strong performances are Brian Bailey as Jet leader Riff and Darnell Benjamin (He sings? He sings!) as Bernardo. Both were believable in their leadership roles, and I liked how they played off each other in front of their gangs. Also, great character decision-making by Jeremy Long in the small but mighty role of Glad Hand. Very funny and great way to play-off the prop coming apart in your hands, without missing a beat.
I would have liked to have seen the supporting gang members, especially the Jets, to have stronger characterizations. For me, they didn’t stand out as individuals with differing personalities. This would have helped the energy and fun of “Officer Krumpke” if it was a bit more character-driven. As the only comedic-break in the dark second act, I would also have liked this number to be moved more downstage and played out.
For audience members in the first several rows, the staging of the ensemble version of “Tonight” was difficult to fully appreciate. With the gang members so close, they tended to overwhelm the other vocals, so we weren’t getting much of a vocal blend.
Marcus Shields and Abigail Paschke both have beautiful voices as leads Tony and Maria. In his acting, I did find Shields to be emotionally flat. The chemistry between the two came close a couple of times, but during their duets their focus seemed to be the vocals and not the characters.
Overall, a strong and entertaining production. The performances have been selling strongly, so ticket availability may be limited. Student rush tickets have also been announced, where students and faculty can purchase tickets for $10.
My rating: 3.75 out of 5
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