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West Side Story

It is arguably the greatest American musical—a collaboration of Broadway geniuses: conceived, directed, and choreographed by Jerome Robbins; book by Arthur Laurents; music by Leonard Bernstein; lyrics by Stephen Sondheim; and produced by Harold Prince.

The Jets meet at Docís Drugstore. (Front, left to right): Jeremy Lucas (Action), Jesse Buckingham (Baby John), Chris Cobb Olsen (Riff) and Juliana Black (Anybodys).
The Jets meet at Docís Drugstore.
(Front L to R): Jeremy Lucas (Action),
Jesse Buckingham (Baby John),
Chris Cobb Olsen (Riff)
and Juliana Black (Anybodys)
Photo: Mark Kiryluk
Why don't we see it performed more often? Because it takes an incredible wealth of talent to do it right. So, hats off to Central City Opera for tackling this legendary story. West Side Story transposes Shake-speare's immortal tragedy of Romeo and Juliet to the late '50's in Manhattan, with the Montagues and Capulets as the Jets and the Sharks.

The dance at the gym in Central City Operaís WEST SIDE STORY (2008). Pictured (Center, L to R): Erin Webley (Graziella) and Chris Cobb Olsen (Riff).
Pictured (Center, L to R): Erin Webley
as Graziella and Chris Cobb Olsen (Riff).
Photo: Mark Kiryluk
Director Ken Cazan—having worked with Bernstein and hired a choreographer, Daniel Pelzig, who danced for Robbins—shows impressive insight and discretion in recreating the original strengths and updating only where necessary. Robbins' work still shines brilliantly, and Pelzig dazzles us with his own creativity, in particular with the "Dance in the Gym."

Sarah Jane McMahon as Maria and Gregory Turay as Tony meet at the dance
Sarah Jane McMahon as Maria
and Gregory Turay as Tony
meet at the dance
Photo: Mark Kiryluk
Sarah Jane McMahon as Maria and Gregory Turay as Tony come up aces in looks, chemistry, and voice: we are as excited as they are about the possibilities that life offers them. Their duets are, more than any other songs in the musical, adaptable to operatic technique.

However, much of the West Side Story songbook does not open up for the voice in the way that opera is designed; short, staccato phrasing, so effective when amplified in musical theatre, barely makes it past the orchestra seats, even in the acoustically blessed, 8500' above–sea–level, 19th-Century opera house. Thus, the first act loses some punch.

Anthony Peyla as Bernardo and Stephanie Nelson as Anita
Anthony Peyla as Bernardo
and Stephanie Nelson as Anita
Photo: Mark Kiryluk
The joint casting effort—between General/Artistic Director Pat Pearce and casting director Michael Cassara—is excellent, top to bottom: Chris Cobb Olsen as the Jet's leader, Riff, and Anthony Peyla as the Shark's leader, Bernardo, are well matched physically, and great dancers as well. Stephanie Nelson is terrific as the feisty, spicy Anita, shining in "America," and "A Boy Like That."

Cameron Anderson's scenic design is evocative and gritty; Alice Marie Kugler Bristow's costumes bright and appropriately simple; and conductor John Baril and the festival orchestra render a lively take on Bernstein's scintillating score.

Central City Opera's presentation of Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story runs in repertory with Carlyle Ford's Susannah, through August 9th. 303-292-6700.

Bob Bows

 

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