Muny Caps Their Best Season Yet With Vivid Production Of “West Side Story”

WestSideStory300x300There’s a whole new buzz at the Muny and the emphasis is on quality. Each production has sizzled with top to bottom talent in the cast, excellent direction and technical work that fits the vast Muny stage. This, the last week of the 2013 season, brings us the iconic Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, Arthur Laurents tale of Romeo and Juliet set in 1957 New York City, “West Side Story.” We haven’t had the heat we usually have on St. Louis summer nights at the Muny, but this production cranks up the heat on stage with superb voices and director Gordon Greenberg and choreographer Chris Bailey recreating the original Jerome Robbins masterpiece moves.

For me, nothing comes closer to perfection through song, dance and story than the wonderful “Dance At The Gym” sequence where Tony and Maria first meet. The flow of rhythms and melodies and the tension created between the Sharks and Jets is all drawn out in this single, exquisite moment in the world of musical theatre. At the Muny on opening night, it was like stepping back in time and viewing it in a jaw-dropping moment with a fresh, new look. But there are so many moments like this in “West Side Story” and they just continue to unfold as the night goes on.

Kyle Dean Massey is perfect as the hesitant Tony, approached by his old buddy, Riff- played (and danced) in spectacular fashion by Curtis Holbrook. Refusing to rejoin the Jets for a seminal showdown with the Sharks, Tony is soon drawn in anyway after seeing Maria and meeting with opposition from the leader of the Sharks, Bernardo- skillfully crafted by Manuel Herrera. As Maria, Ali Ewoldt displays a compassionate yet reluctant demeanor and brings a sweet, crystal clear soprano to Maria- especially in the striking duet of “Tonight” with Tony.

Natalie Cortez sizzles as well with the rousing “America” number and the lively competition-like lyrics and dance from the Puerto Rican Sharks and their “girls.” She also shines in the touching duet with Maria where they both discover something about love and hate, “A Boy Like That/I Have A Love.” The strong supporting cast includes a tightly wound Drew Foster as Action, Kaitlin Mesh as the tomboy Anybodys, Jon Rua as Chino- whose death starts the hard core action in motion, Ken Page as Doc who tries to keep peace in his drugstore  and Rich Pisarkiewicz and Michael James Reed as the bumbling police officers.

The striking ironwork set by Robert Mark Morgan is as versatile as it is beautiful and the added lights of Rob Dennon and projections of Nathan W. Scheuer add to the “original” feel of this production. Kudos as well to the costumes of Andrea Lauer and the magnificent work by the Muny orchestra under the helm of James Moore. This was a big, bold sound worthy of such a powerful show. I don’t think you’ll hear any complaints from the folks lucky enough to catch this final show of the Muny season. It is as strong a production as we’ve seen on stage in St. Louis in some time. Catch “West Side Story” as it plays through this Sunday, August 11th in Forest Park.

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