By HOLLY JOHNSON // Marvelous dancing, the leaps, the turns, the finger-clicking segments of pure excitement to Bernstein’s fabulous score and Robbins’ ground-breaking dance.
West Side Story, currently at Broadway Rose, explodes onstage in a sturdy, steadfast production.
When we attended, only seniors seemed to fill the audience. But those seniors knew all the lyrics and the tunes.
I hope that younger audiences get to know this first-class American musical, inspired by Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet, and one of my favorites if not my very favorite. Composer Leonard Bernstein was in his element, in top form, with his Jazz and Classical influences. Lyricist Stephen Sondheim, a young man then, was hot, and choreographer Jerome Robbins created direction and dance that is so American, so New York City, that it can’t possibly have come from any other place. The folks at Broadway Rose have created fine production values on all counts. Director Peggy Taphorn has stuck to the original movement and blocking as much as possible, shaping it to the stage at Tigard High School (the company, in its 25th season, has been using the space since then). Choreographer Jacob Toth has echoed Robbin’s unforgettable dance moves diligently, and musical director Alan D. Lytle embellished all the familiar musical phrases.
It's a challenge to turn sweet-faced young men into gang members of 1950s New York City. Taphorn didn’t bother to try. Toughness doesn’t come across visually. But what works is the marvelous dancing, the leaps, the turns, the finger-clicking segments of pure excitement to Bernstein’s fabulous score and Robbins’ ground-breaking dance. The Capulets and Montagues come to life as a white gang and a Puerto Rican gang who spar on the street and under bridges, and that continuing duel, until the final killings, fills the stage with crackling energy. And The Dance at the Gym sequence is feisty and fun, beautifully staged, and afire with color and movement. Kayla Dixon, who plays Anita, has a strong dance background, and although she’s marvelous as an actress and singer portraying Bernardo’s girlfriend, her dancing is a real highlight.
Lead vocalists as the star-crossed lovers Maria and Tony are Mia Pinera and Andrew Wade respectively. They both brought these central characters to life through song. Pinera’s phrasing and vocal quality was simply stunning. She’s a perfect Maria, with an operatic talent that is surely the sign of a successful career. Wade drew us into the story as Tony, an unintended gleaming hero on a small battlefield, a sacrifice for love. His voice was magical as well, and his sex appeal just right. Austin Arizpe is striking as Bernardo the PV gang leader and Drew Shafranek, who scarcely looks tough, is very good as Riff the Jets leader. He’s a bit sweet-faced, but he’s a joy to watch on the dance floor, as is Arizpe. “The Rumble” is a five-part vocal mélange that I never tire of hearing, and this cast made it special. Fine work also came from Jeremy Southard as Officer Krupke and Garland Lyons in double roles. The entire chorus of women sparkled onstage.Director Taphorn very astutely cast Latin American actors in the Puerto Rican roles. What a difference.
The musical which plays through July 24 Thursdays through Sundays and runs two hours and 50 minutes.
For ticket purchase and information or call 503-620-5262.