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REVIEW: "West Side Story"

KO Rinearson
The cast of Lyric Theatre's West Side Story.
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It is a pleasure to revisit classic musicals when they’re done in a way that makes you feel like you're seeing them for the first time. That's what you get in Lyric Theatre’s bold new production of West Side Story.
 
Of course, masters of the art form created the show: Arthur Laurents (book), Leonard Bernstein (music) and Stephen Sondheim (lyrics). Lyric artistic director Michael Baron says they have “maintained” Jerome Robbins’ original choreography (recreated by Amy Reynolds-Reed), so the company offers a faithful production, now at the Thelma Gaylord.
 
Director Matthew Gardiner has staged the show with elegant simplicity. It’s the Romeo and Juliet story set in late 1950s New York City with the Montagues and Capulets as warring gangs: the (white) Jets versus the (Puerto Rican) Sharks.
 
Two scenes stand out in a completely solid show. Gardiner stages the first-act balcony scene without one superfluous move or affectation. Wearing a simple white nightgown, Maria (Juliet) leads Tony (Romeo) across the building’s roof where they have some safe time together, and we hear a beautiful “Tonight.”
 
In the second act, Tony and Maria literally see the light, and he sings “Somewhere there’s a place for us.” In the ballet that follows, Gardiner shines a bright light on what could have been before dissolving back into reality.
 
When you add outstanding performances to quality material and creative staging, you get compelling theater. Austin Colby as Tony has what can only be described as an angelic voice. When he sings “Maria,” it’s truly a wonderful moment.
 
According to her program bio, MaryJoanna Grisso played Maria in 600 performances on a national tour. Yet her Maria still has a youthful innocence that’s convincingly fresh and goes with her fine voice. Colby and Grisso have extraordinary stage chemistry as Tony and Maria.
 
The entire cast gives strong performances. As the second leads, Desirée Davar makes a feisty Anita, and Alexander Cruz gives Bernardo unrelenting masculinity.
 
A 19-piece orchestra accompanies the show. This full orchestra brings out the subtleties of Bernstein’s score. The film version is well-known, and some of the songs have been widely covered, so it’s great to hear the score played and sung live. And when was the last time you saw a musical at the Thelma Gaylord with an orchestra that included a bassoon? Gardiner places the orchestra upstage in full view of the audience.
 
The production’s creative team equals the material and performances. Kimberly Powers’ schematic, three-story scenic design suggests a New York City street and makes scene changes smooth and fast. Jeffrey Meek’s realistic costumes put the Sharks in maroon and the Jets in gray.
 
Robbins’ choreography presents challenges to a cast that needs true triple threats. On opening night, some of the ensemble dancing had not yet jelled.
 
Lyric’s summer season has been shaky until now. But in this production of a true classic, all the elements come together for a satisfying whole. Theatergoers who have not seen West Side Story will have an excellent introduction to the show. Experienced theatergoers will find this a refreshing reacquaintance with it.
West Side Story
Wednesday, July 26th, 2017 7:30pm to Saturday, July 29th, 2017 8:00pm
Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma
201 North Walker Ave
Oklahoma City, OK 73102
405-524-9312
Prices from: $40.00

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About the Author

Larry Laneer

Larry Laneer has reviewed theater for several Oklahoma City publications.  He has...

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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