If I ask you what the most romantic piece of classical literature is, what would you name? Romeo and Juliet is a prime candidate, of course. If I ask you who the most popular modern composer and lyricist is; who would you name? Stephen Sondheim is a logical choice. What if I tell you there’s a show that gives you the best of both of those worlds?! Well, that’s West Side Story and it’s playing now at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. The story line is adapted from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and the lyrics are by Sondheim. Throw in dynamos like Jerome Robbins, Arthur Laurents, and Leonard Bernstein and you’re sure to have a hit on your hands!! Now I’ll leave the history and accolades to the theatre professor and stick to my own thoughts! (The link goes to a review by Auburn Montgomery theatre professor Val Winkelman.)
To begin, I cannot tell you how impressed and glad I am to know that there is a live orchestra playing for this musical production! We were greeted by the thrilling sounds of instruments warming up as we quickly found our seats. The curtain speech welcoming the audience and thanking the sponsors of the production was both quick and sincere and also brought the exciting news that next summer’s season will bring a production of the world-wide phenomenon, Les Misérables, which is sure to be a “must see” for theatre goers from far and wide.
I knew this would be a great performance the moment the lights came up on a well designed and very open stage. The boys took to the stage and commanded it with their exciting mix of dance and stunts. These gangsters were truly impressive as they seemed to dance their way across the stage and through the lives of those street-wise characters. Director and Choreographer Karen Azenberg did a marvelous job of capturing the look and feel of the original musical while adding her own elements. Paul Wonsek, the designer, created the set to continuously adapt and provide just the spaces the actors needed to stretch their dancing talents. The stage hands as well as Paul deserve a huge round of applause for the incredible and impeccable scene changes. It was truly remarkable to see a set and scene changes work so beautifully!
The actors blew the audience away with their triple talents in singing, dancing, and acting. The Jets and Sharks fit their “tough guys” personas and provided very nice vocal performances while their ladies sang and danced beautifully throughout the show. Loren Christopher portrayed a wonderful and gentle wide-eyed young boy in love while Nina Negri brought her gorgeous Opera trained voice to the role of Mari. Beautiful Jacqueline Colmer made the perfect Puerto Rican hot tamale as Anita, friend and confidante to innocent Maria. I dearly hope that they’ll bring these three back next year for Les Misérables, mostly Nina to lend her voice and experience with the show.
This is a wonderful show from beginning to end and my date for the evening is still talking about how much he enjoyed it! This show really is the hottest ticket in town and is well worth a trip to Montgomery to see. I have a feeling that once you see this show then you’ll start to look forward to Les Misérables next summer! I know West Side Story has certainly whetted my appetite for it now!