Thursday, May 31, 2007

West Side Story - The 5th Avenue Theatre

West Side Story
The 5th Avenue Theatre in Association with Spectrum Dance Theater
May 26 – June 17, 2007
Tickets and Information

Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein’s classic retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet comes back to life for its 50th anniversary at the 5th Avenue Theatre. The 1957 musical has captivated audiences from Broadway to London, from professional theaters to high school productions and now finds its home in Seattle for its half-century birthday. In association with The 5th Avenue Theatre, Spectrum Dance Theater lends its style, flare and name to this incredible production. No better gift could these theaters have given than this spectacular show.

With an ensemble show such as West Side Story, the audience relies on the combined talents and skills of all the performers at all times in order to create the breathtaking numbers. Bob Richard’s recreation of the original choreography brings back to life the original emotion and power of West Side Story. With incredible dance sequences in ‘Cool,’ ‘America’ and ‘Officer Krupke,’ the skill of the choreographer and dancers is readily apparent. Additionally, the various choreographic styles show off the originality and the perpetual freshness of the dances, augmenting the skills of the performers.

Photo by Chris Bennion

Ian Eisendrath’s conduction and musical direction of this production summons up all of the power and skill of each performer. Numbers such as ‘The Tonight Quintet’ gather the audience to the edge of its communal seat. ‘A Boy Like That’ is one of the most heart-wrenching pieces of music in the show and is executed perfectly. Augmenting the music and dance is Bill Berry’s direction. Adding a bit of extra feistiness to such a well-known show, Berry’s directorial skill shines in this show. Capturing the essence of the emotion and action, West Side Story is as vivacious as ever, if not even more so.

Martin Christoffel’s set design is a tangible painting for the stage. His juxtaposition of industrial warehouse-like levels and a variety of Shakespearean catwalk balconies with supple drapery and backings creates a complete and vibrant world. Living within Christoffel’s sets, Lynda Salsbury’s subtle costumes allow the show to carry itself while softening the distinctions between gangs and characters. Without such harsh color differentiation as can often be used in a production of West Side Story, Salsbury’s costumes are strong but not overpowering allowing the show to speak for itself. Meanwhile, Tom Sturge’s lighting design flows forth from the vaulted warehouse ceilings to the world of the play. Using a combination of classic stage lighting with unnatural halogen lighting (for Doc’s Drugstore) and a palpable filling of the stage with the deepest possible color, Sturge’s design fully adds the final piece to this remarkable puzzle.

After half a century of running throughout the world, West Side Story comes to Seattle for its silver anniversary. This production brings back the magic that has always been, is, and will always be Sondheim and Bernstein’s West Side Story.

Review by Nigel Andrews and Phoebe Linea

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