West Side Story at Paper Mill Playhouse is a production that is incredibly well done. The show, under the direction of Mark S. Hoebee, is energetic, stunning to watch and this cast has a ton of energy. It was a reminder of why so many people love this show, and this is the best production of West Side Story that I have seen. There is an enthusiasm and energy that radiates from this cast in particular, and it comes through in each and every performance. If you are a fan of West Side Story or if you have never seen the musical onstage, I would highly recommend seeing this incredible production at Paper Mill Playhouse.
West Side Story is a modern retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet with music by Leonard Bernstein, a book by Arthur Laurents and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. The show is set in the West Side of New York City in the late summer in 1957. The show tells the story of two star crossed lovers, Maria and Tony who are caught between two gangs, the Sharks and the Jets. However, Maria’s brother, Bernardo, who is the leader of the Puerto Rican gang, the Sharks, wants Maria to have nothing to do with Tony because he is a former member of the Jets. In addition, even though Tony tries to distance himself from the Jets, he has close friends who are members of this Caucasian gang, such as Riff, who is the leader of the Jets.
One of the things I really loved about this show is that choreographer, Alex Sanchez, gives the dancers a chance to shine. The dance numbers in this show are outstanding and are mesmerizing to watch. In particular the numbers, “Dance at the Gym” and “America” are brilliant and highlight the dazzling choreography. Playing the role of Maria is Belinda Allyn. Allyn comes across as innocent in this role, but she has an air of independence about her particularly in the way she stands up for herself. The moment Maria meets Tony the audience feels her strong love toward him, and the duet between Allyn and Matt Doyle who portrays Tony is beautiful. Doyle imbues optimism into his character especially at the beginning of the show, and this comes through particularly well in his vibrant vocal, “Something’s Coming.” German Alexander portrays Bernardo, the protective brother of Maria. Alexander displays the complexity of Bernardo as he demonstrates pride as well as anger at the racism he and other Puerto Rican immigrants face in New York. What I particularly loved about Alexander’s performance is how throughout the show it is apparent that everything he does is to protect his girlfriend, Anita, and his sister, Maria. Natalie Cortez plays Anita and she is full of pizazz from the time she enter the stage. Anita is sassy and strong and this comes across in Cortez’s performance. Also, “America” is one of my favorite numbers in this production, and Cortez shines in this energetic number. Mikey Winslow plays Riff the leader of the Jets. Winslow is magnetic as this tough leader. One last person I need to mention is Maria Briggs as Anybodys. Briggs is perfectly spunky in this role as she goes toe-to-toe with other members of the Jets even though they would rather her not be around. One last highlight of the show that needs mentioning is the number “Gee, Officer Krupke.” This highly energetic number in act two is a delight, and it is presented by the Jets gang as performed by the gifted singer-dancers: Cody Williams, Jack Sippel, Parker Slaybaugh, Brendon Stimson, Michael Bullard, John Michael Fiumara and Spencer Clark.
The artistic team also needed mentioning for this marvelous production. James Youmans designed the stunning set that transforms throughout the show and goes from depicting the streets of the West Side New York City to a dance hall to scenes under a bridge. The set transformations were seamless. David C. Woolard designed the beautiful costumes. In particular, some of the stand out costumes are Maria’s white dress for the dance, Anita’s purple dress and Bernardo’s purple suit. All the costumes were spectacular. In addition, Charlie Morrison is the Lighting Designer and Randy Hensen is the Sound Designer. Also, Steve Orich is the Music Director.
West Side Story runs at Paper Mill Playhouse through June 26, 2016. For more information and tickets visit their website at www.papermill.org or call the box office at 973-376-4343.
Final Thought: West Side Story at Paper Mill Playhouse is a spectacular production, and the best production of this show I have seen onstage. The cast shines in this musical as they are full of energy and provide a passion to the show and their roles that will emotionally move audiences. In addition, the choreography in this show is incredible. Do not miss this first-rate production!
Kelli Curtin is editor and writer for theatresensation.com. In addition, she is a contributor for the online site broadwayworld.com. Kelli is excited to share her passion about theatre and the Arts with her readers. Kelli can be found on Twitter, Facebook and on Instagram.
Cover Photo: Photo by Matthew Murphy; The Jets.
Photo 1: Photo by Matthew Murphy; Matt Doyle (Tony), center, and the company of West Side Story.
Photo 2: Photo by Matthew Murphy; The Sharks and The Jets.
Photo 3: Photo by Matthew Murphy; From left to right: Ilda Mason (Estella), Lauren Csete (Consuelo), Natalie Cortez (Anita), Lisa Finegold (Francisca) and Alexia Sky (Teresita).
Photo 4: Photo by Jerry Dalia; Matt Doyle (Tony) and Belinda Allyn (Maria).