EMAV Review: 'West Side Story' sizzles at Signature Productions ★★★★

Updated: Oct 27, 2019


Photos by Stan Judd.

★★★★☆ - Delicious


The talented and dedicated Board, performers, designers and technicians with Signature Productions continue their reputation for superior production quality and family entertainment in their delicious, 4-Star presentation of “West Side Story”, which continues through November 16th at Summerlin Library & Performing Arts Center.


Inspired by the timeless story of Romeo and Juliet, “West Side Story” takes Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers and places them in the vibrant battleground of New York City’s West Side in the 1950s. Young lovers are caught between prejudice and warring street gangs in one of the most important and powerful musicals of all time. As two gangs battle for control of the turf, the situation becomes complicated when a gang member falls in love with a rival's sister – and they discover that ancient grudges are no match for true love.


The deep-seated rivalry between the Puerto Rican gang (the Sharks) and the white gang (the Jets) includes “rumbles”, romance, and resentment which lead to the lovers’ ultimate, tragic conclusion. With soaring, sophisticated, and diverse melodies, energetic and athletic dance battles, and its remarkably relevant social message, “West Side Story” remains one of American musical theatre’s most revolutionary and most loved treasures.

The manner of telling the story has always been a provocative and artful blend of music, dance and plot. By keeping faithful to the Broadway original, this production wins the audience over from the opening prologue, danced by the Jets and the Sharks. It reminds us of the extraordinary fusion of music, movement and story that makes this a great musical.


Everything in “West Side Story” is of a piece and contributes to the impression of wildness, ecstasy and the anguish of adolescence. The score has moments of tranquility and rapture, and occasionally a touch of mocking humor. And the ballets convey the things that the actors are inhibited from saying. The choreography expresses the hostility and suspicion between the gangs, the glory of the nuptials, the terror of the rumble, and the devastating climax.


Director Deborah Boyd and her creative team do an excellent job crafting a simple concept so as to keep the focus on the performers. The back wall is a cyclorama (or “cyc”) -- a white or natural seamless flat muslin panel, most commonly used for lighting effects that oftentimes mimic dynamic changes in the music. The set pieces are distributed vertically as scaffolding made of platforms and fire escapes, and serve as ever present representations of the inner city environment. Costumes appropriately reflect the period and social classes. Kudos to: Debora Boyd (director), Stan Judd (scenic design), Elizabeth Kline (lighting design), Roxanne Andrews (costume design) and Noah Goddard (sound design).


Both the primary characters and the large supporting ensemble handle the musical challenges and dance routines very well, to the credit of musical director, Shaun Oblad, and choreographer, Ashley Oblad. The principal performers include: Amanda Campos (Maria), Jackson Langford (Tony), Jacob Anderson (Bernardo), Kyara Isis (Anita), Keaton Delmar (Riff).


“West Side Story” opened at the Winter Garden Theatre on September 26, 1957. The Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, and Arthur Laurents musical included such classic songs as "I Feel Pretty" and "Somewhere." The show was choreographed and staged by Jerome Robbins and Peter Gennaro, the former of whom came up with the show's original 1949 concept: "East Side Story." The piece evolved, with new music, a new location, and a new ethnicity, to become what it was on opening night. Larry Kert, Carol Lawrence, and Chita Rivera starred.


Stephen Sondheim has been active in major Broadway productions of American musical theater since his first collaboration with Leonard Bernstein as lyricist for “West Side Story” in 1957. In a letter to Bernstein on the occasion of the New York premiere he wrote:


"West Side Story means much more to me than a first show, more even than the privilege of collaborating with you and Arthur [Laurents] and Jerry [Robbins]...May West Side Story mean as much to the theater and to people who see it as it has to us."



Note: Celebrate 62 Years of “West Side Story” on Broadway With Rare Photos (By PLAYBILL Staff, September 26, 2019)



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