Review: Festival Theatre hits new high with ‘West Side Story’

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There’s no such thing as perfection, some say. Well, they’re wrong.

So, where do you find this rarely achieved perfection? The same place it’s always been — New Bedford Festival Theatre, at the Zeiterion Theatre, each summer, with executive producer, Armand Marchand, welcoming audiences in the lobby before the show and entire houses of people on their feet two hours later, offering thunderous applause and a standing ovation for the theatre miracle they’ve just seen.

These are the markers of perfection.

However, Festival Theatre’s current production of “West Side Story” hits a new high, creating a shining new benchmark of its own for the kind of dazzling, quality live theatre it has unflinchingly brought to eager audiences for three decades.

“They won’t write another musical like this one,” said Marchand, as theatergoers strolled out of the lobby after the show.

Of course, culturally and socially important scripts have and will continue to be written and successfully performed.

But, what Marchand is talking about is the musical genius of Leonard Bernstein (Festival Theatre celebrates his 100th birthday with “West Side Story”), in collaboration with Jerome Robbins (who originally conceived, directed and choreographed the production), Stephen Sondheim (lyrics) and Arthur Laurents (book) — the remarkable team who captured the phenomenon of urban strife, gang violence and its heartbreaking effect on young love, in music and dance.

Opening in 1957 at the Winter Garden Theater in New York City, “West Side Story” forged a distinctly unforgettable moment in the history of the American musical theater, which in the opinions of some, has never been met or surpassed. (Well, they’re right.)

In his review of the show in the New York Herald Tribune on Sept. 25, 1957, Walter Kerr wrote, “The radioactive fallout from ‘West Side Story’ must still be descending on Broadway this morning. Director, choreographer, and idea-man Jerome Robbins has put together, and then blasted apart, the most savage, restless, electrifying dance patterns we’ve been exposed to in a dozen seasons . . . the show rides with a catastrophic roar over the spider-web fire-escapes, the shadowed trestles, and the plain dirt battlegrounds of a big city feud . . .”

Under the direction of Michael Susko (with his special choreography in the number, “Gee, Officer Krupke”), and Jerome Robbin’s original choreography reproduced by Victoria Casillo, dance numbers are a tight blend of ballet, jazz and athleticism; painstakingly true to the original model and meticulously duplicated.

“Dreams can come true,” said musical director Juan Rodriguez. “This truly is the most rewarding show. Doesn’t get better than Bernstein.” Well . . . yeah, it does. Juan Rodriguez is simply the best.

In this show he captures the myriad of emotion and cultural diversity that is “West Side Story.” Kudos, too, to his amazing orchestra.

Samantha Williams as Maria is enchanting as the young Latina, looking for a happy, hopeful new life in America. Her brand of perfection is evident in the way she portrays the innocence of the character and more, in her phrasing and heavenly delivery of songs with the most beautiful soprano imaginable.

Tanner Callicut plays Tony with natural youth, optimism and a gorgeous tenor voice sure to melt hearts. He is as comfortable in his fire escape duets with Maria as he is with his gang, the Jets, and in his confrontational scenes with opposing Shark members.

The fiery Anita is played by Natonia Monet with perfect, combustible passion, as she tries to school and protect Maria, her boyfriend Bernardo’s sister. Monet is sass, energy, excitement and a joy to watch.

If there is a superb ticking bomb, the ultimate bad boy in this show, with intermittent patience, strategy and outbursts, it is the multi-talented Taylor Wright, as Riff, the leader of the Jets.

This consummate professional exudes presence as chooses controlled anger in its psychological and physical manifestations, as adeptly as he flies across the stage in antics with challenging choreography.

He makes quirky dance moves easy, with finger-snapping precision and leaping up into the air from a kneeling position, without missing a beat. He speaks convincingly; he sings meaningfully and moves gracefully. Not bad for a gang leader.

George Charbonneau portrays Doc with a moving blend of anger, compassion, and frustration at not knowing how to prevent bad things from happening.

Eric Paradis commands the stage in any size role. As the determined Lt. Schrank, he is perfectly serious and believable.

It is always a pleasure to see John Costa in any production, and there have been many. But his healthy appearance in this show is extra special. As Gladhand, he is characteristically real and a welcoming presence.

Zuzu Park is delightful as Anybodys, a would-be Jet, even if she is a girl. Park’s got this character down with her relentless desire to be accepted. A focused and energetic ensemble make up the additional Jets and Sharks, and their spirited “Girls.”

Classic musical highlights include “Maria,” “Tonight,” “America,” “Somewhere,” “I Feel Pretty,” “A Boy Like That/I Have a Love” and more.

The experience of “West Side Story” is truly one of a kind.

This article was originally posted on by Lorraine Lucciola (Contributing Writer) on July 23, 2018 – see original article HERE