San Diego, CA—“West Side Story” isn’t the first nor will it be the last of the star-crossed lovers stories. It won’t be the last story we read about of hotheaded kids or adults using weapons to settle disputes or kill in the name of honor, love, surname. None can forget “Romeo And Juliet” Shakespeare’s love crossed tragedy that ended in senseless death. On a less complicated or tragic note, Guy and Girl in the 2007 hit “Once” (then dubbed the new Romeo & Juliet) met and fell for each other but it never meet the intensity of a true R&J or Tony and Maria. All these stories are as old as Mythology and as new as “Once”.
What stands out in “West Side Story” is that it is an American Musical with all the underpinnings of race, prejudice and ethnic biases. It also captures the brilliant music of Leonard Bernstein, the truth in Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics and the masterwork of Arthur Laurents book.
“West Side Story” has it all, and right now it is coming to you by way of San Diego Musical Theatre at the Spreckels downtown through March 1st complete with a 28-piece orchestra under the baton of Don LeMaster, with direction by James Vasquez and Randy Slovacek choreographing.
Just imagine: “One Hand, One Heart”, “Maria”, “Somewhere”, “America”, “Tonight”, “Something’s Coming”, “Dance at the Gym” “The Ballet Sequence”, “I Feel Pretty”. Just picture two teenage gangs, the Jets (white) and the Sharks (Puerto Rican) fighting for control of the neighborhood. Imagine that no one comes out a winner.
Imagine also one Tony (Jacob Caltrider) a well-respected former member of the Jets, one Maria (Jessica Soza), doing the unimaginable, falling in love with a Shark’s sister. Imagine her brother Bernardo (Alvaro Kikau) the ringleader of the Sharks finding out. Imagine Anita (Natalie Nucci) Bernardo’s squeeze helping Maria only to be raped as a byproduct of hatred and ignorance and stupidity. None of it is pretty.
Rumbles, mistrust, prejudiced cops/ detectives and ignorance drives this story to an unfortunate truth.
San Diego Musical Theatre, just coming off a high with their award winning production of “Next To Normal”, has stretched again. With a beautifully balanced cast of no less than thirty mostly singers and dancers they managed to fill the large stage of the grand, but old Spreckels downtown space with Bernstein’s familiar score featuring soprano Jessica Soza, making her US debut here in San Diego, as the naïve- newly arrived in America Maria and the equally naïve Tony (Jacob Caltrider) as the star-crossed lovers.
Both Caltrider and Soza were in fine voice on opening night as they sparked a chemistry that was hard not to believe. (“One Hand/One Heart”/ “Tonight”). Natalie Nucci stole every scene she was in and then some. (“America”/”I Have A Love”). Talent oozes from this cast and that includes all the fine choreography and dancing led by Slovacek recreating the late Jerome Robbins original dance numbers. (Dance In the Gym).
Jeffery Scott Parsons is in rare form as Riff, the Jet’s leader and the handsome Kikai Alvaro is a smoothie as Bernardo head of the Sharks, Maria’s brother and Rita’s boyfriend. Both gang members groups do star power work as they all looked like they stepped out of a 1957 street scene. Credit Janet Pitcher for that period look.
Manny Fernandes is the race-baiting detective that is just as much a part of the instigating as the gang members. As always, Fernandes walks the walk with confidence. And then there is Officer Krupke, baton in hand looking for trouble. (Dan Windham) “Gee Officer Krupke” is the poking fun at the law tune that has both law enforcers looking like incompetents.
The cast is in constant motion from Tony climbing the ladder to Maria’s window (Sean Fanning’s double decked scaffold, moveable sets illuminated with Amanda Zieves effective lighting casting shadows in the dark and light on the lovers) to the gangs running back and forth, sliding under, climbing atop fences, or to dancing in the High School Gym. Most of this back and fourth is for the sole purpose if informing each other of the ‘other’s movements. They assemble in what might be called neutral territory, “Doc’s (RC Sands) Drugstore and on some occasions they move to a platform just off the stage.
San Diego Musical Theatre’s “West side Story” is a polished, and well thought out production that deserves kudos for such a large and successful undertaking.
And some of the reviews that came in when it opened on Broadway in 1957:
Brooks Atkinson—The subject is not beautiful. But what “West Side Story” draws out of it is beautiful.
Walter Kerr—The radioactivity fallout from “West Side Story” must still be descending on Broadway.
Frank Aston—“West Side Story” is more than a Romeo meowing to a Juliet on a balcony. It is a marvel peculiar to this country. Here we breed evil in our cities, but here we also parade a Bernstein and a Robbins so that a big part of this tortured world may say, America must be proud of boys like those.”
It’s been a while since “West Side Story” had been mounted on our local stages. For a better look and an even better feel for this great American musical, head downtown and bring tissues.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through March 1st
Organization: SD Musical Theatre
Production Type: Musical
Where: 121 Broadway, Downtown San Diego, 92101
Ticket Prices: Start at $35.00
Venue: Spreckels Theatre