It is not an exaggeration to say: “North Carolina Theatre‘s production of West Side Story has it all!” This is a high-energy show with dazzling choreography, awesome music, beautifully clear vocals, natural down-to-earth acting, and plenty of opportunities to laugh … and to cry..
Directed by NCT’s producing artistic director Eric Woodall, this production features Jerome Robbins’ original Broadway choreography, reproduced by Jeremy Dumont and a flawless 10-piece orchestra, led by music director/conductor Edward G. Robinson.
West Side Story is a popular show. With book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, the original Broadway production opened in 1957 and ran for 732 performances before going on tour. There were Broadway revivals in 1960, 1969, 1980, and 2009.
There were U.S. tours in 1959, 1985, 1995, and 2009. West Side Story opened in London’s West End in 1958, and there were West End revivals in 1974, 1984, and 1998. A film adaptation was produced in 1961 (directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins), and another film version (directed by Steven Spielberg) is scheduled for release in December 2020.
When the curtain rises, we’re in the 1950s, and two street gangs are constantly at each other’s throats — it’s the “white American” Jets vs. the “immigrant” Puerto Rican Sharks. (Their mutual animosity is established immediately with the opening number “Prologue,” performed by The Sharks and The Jets.)
In the midst of this lethal “us versus them” hatred, a young love is suddenly kindled between a highly visible “Jet boy” and an equally conspicuous “Shark girl.” Tony is a former Jet (and best friend of Jet leader Riff); Maria is the sister of Shark leader Bernardo and is newly arrived from Puerto Rico for an arranged marriage to Bernardo’s friend Chino.
Tony and Maria meet at a neighborhood dance that is intended to foster friendship between the members of the rival gangs. As the two dance, an angry Bernardo pulls them apart and sends Maria home. However, they have been smitten by each other, and they are determined to do what it takes to be together. But where can it do from here? (Hint: West Side Story was conceived of as a contemporary musical adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Enough said.)
The optimism of the two young lovers is apparent in Tony’s solos “Something’s Coming” and “Maria,” in Maria’s solo “I Feel Pretty,” and in their duets “Tonight” and “One Hand, One Heart.”
The sense of foreboding tragedy shows up in “Jet Song” and “Cool,” performed by Riff and The Jets. And it is consummated in “The Rumble,” performed by The Sharks and The Jets.
A few of the other songs are laced with a bit of comic relief, but “America” (performed by Anita, Rosalita, and The Shark Girls) and “Officer Krupke” (performed by Action and The Jets) stand out as feel-good, laugh-out-loud numbers, the latter being strategically placed exactly where comic relief is most needed.
This is a cast without a single weak spot. Director Eric Woodall has cast it perfectly, and every actor rises to the occasion.
Tony (Zach Adkins) and Maria (Addie Morales) have a natural chemistry from which sparks crackle at key moments. Especially touching: their matching “silly grins” that emerged as they began to fall for each other. And their duets — magnificent! The two made our hearts melt over and over again.
As Bernardo and Riff. Stephen Diaz and David Prottas are perfectly matched as the “mighty opposites.” Both exude the pride, the arrogance, and the obsession with their “turf” expected of a gang leader. And, lest we forget that these characters are teenagers, each has garnished his character with a measure of impetuosity and immaturity.
If we had to pick a favorite, it would be Michelle Alves as Anita. What else can we say but: “Captain Tough-Ass”? Anita is “in charge” of every scene in which she appears, and Alves imbues the toughness of this character with so much charm that we found ourselves hungering for more. Even in the moments that Anita experiences defeat, Alves makes sure that this character never loses her dignity.
Set designer Bob Lavellee and costume designer Tammy Spencer deliver a one-two punch to remind us of the short-comings of the all-too-human tendency to interpret the complexities of the world simply in black-and-white and of our stubborn unwillingness to perceive reality in its perpetual variations and shades of gray. The “white” Jets are dressed in black, and the “dark” Sharks are dressed in white. The set is backed with black movable monolithic cutouts of tenement buildings in front of a sometimes partially visible white background. And there are movable “skeleton” platforms (also black) that define the locations of the various scenes.
Set pieces are expertly used when needed to create a bedroom, a soda shop, or a back alley.
Although the Jets are dressed in their black “uniforms,” and The Sharks are uniformly dressed in white, costume designer Tammy Spencer has invested every character’s costume with individual style. And it is worth noting that the overtly racist police lieutenant Shrank (Estes Tarver) is clad in a black suit.
Lighting designer Samuel Rushen accentuates the well-designed lighting plot with extensive use of follow-spots. And Rushen makes very effective use of color in key sequences.
Especially impressive were the authentic 1950s hairstyles (courtesy of designer Elisa Acevedo Rogers).
From the Department of Picky-Picky: A projection of an American flag that appears at a key moment in the play should have 48 rather than 50 stars.
The Final Word:
It may seem a bit trite to point out that West Side Story poses the serious questions of whether or not love can triumph over hate and whether or not hope can rise from the ashes of defeat. It is not, however, trite to point out that this production very subtly highlights such speculation, and also comments heavily on the divisive issue of immigration.
This NCT production is highly recommended to everyone, no matter how familiar they might be with the story.
SECOND OPINION: Oct. 17th Raleigh, NC Chatham Life & Style review by Dustin K. Britt (who awarded the show 4 of 5 stars): https://chathamlifeandstyle.com/features-%26-reviews/f/theatre-review-ncts-sleek-new-west-side-story; Oct. 17th Raleigh, NC Triangle Arts and Entertainment review by Susie Potter: https://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2019/10/north-carolina-theatres-west-side-story-is-both-timeless-and-relevant/; Oct. 16th Raleigh, NC BroadwayWorld.com Raleigh BWW Review by Jeffrey Kare: https://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/BWW-Review-North-Carolina-Theatres-WEST-SIDE-STORY-20191016 and Oct. 15th BWW Photo/Video Preview by BroadwayWorld TV: https://www.broadwayworld.com/article/PhotoVideo-First-Look-At-Zach-Adkins-In-WEST-SIDE-STORY-at-NC-Theatre-20191015; and Oct. 16th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Roy C. Dicks: https://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=9590.
The North Carolina Theatre presents WEST SIDE STORY at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 17 and 18 and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Oct. 19 and 20 in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.
TICKETS: $18.79-$87.15, except $20 college-student tickets.
NCT Box Office: 919-831-6941, ext. 6944, or http://www.nctheatre.com/tickets/season-tickets.
Ticketmaster: 800-745-3000 or https://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/369155/2598124.
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-831-6941, ext. 6949; email@example.com; or http://nctheatre.com/groups.
SHOW: https://nctheatre.com/shows/west-side-story, https://www.facebook.com/events/1427408427414692/, and https://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/events/west-side-story-north-carolina-theatre.
VIDEO PREVIEW: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sc98dY5xB_E.
2019-20 SEASON: https://nctheatre.com/show-season/201920-season.
NCT NEWS RELEASE: https://nctheatre.com/blog/meet-cast-west-side-story.
PRESENTER: http://www.nctheatre.com/, https://www.facebook.com/nctheatre, https://twitter.com/nctheatre, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Carolina_Theatre, and http://www.youtube.com/user/nctheatre.
NCT BLOG (Stage Notes): http://www.nctheatre.com/stage-notes.
NOTE: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 19th, performance.
Eric Woodall (Benson, NC-born director and NCT artistic director): http://www.ericwoodall.com/ (official website), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/eric-woodall-90124 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0940106/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://www.facebook.com/eric.woodall.98 (Facebook page).
Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.