Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 13, 2018

REVIEW: Barrington Stage Company, West Side Story

Barrington Stage Company, Pittsfield, MA
through September 1, 2018
by Shera Cohen

“West Side Story” opens big! It was opening night, a full house, patrons dressed in their finest (rare for the casual Berkshires), and an instantaneous standing ovation.
To repeat the story’s plot would be wasting the reader’s time. Here’s a summary…the set, New York City slum neighborhood; the time, the late 1950’s; our protagonists, star-crossed young lovers a la Romeo & Juliet; the “bad guys,” no one and everyone.

Describing Barrington’s production in one word would be “honesty.” Director Julianne Boyd seems to have struck a match to set off a red-hot fury of energy and smoldering emotion within every actor; all are true to his/her character as a living, breathing person, and as a representative of a small part of a community, warts and all.

Boyd must share the accolades in creating this near-perfect presentation of “West Side Story” with Choreographer Robert La Fosse. The first notes of the musical are those of the Jets snapping their fingers in unison; this is a family. Then there’s the famous “Dance at the Gym,” a powerful contest of one-upmanship with brutal stakes.

Since no specifically named credit in the program book is given to “fight coordinator,” it seems safe to assume a collaboration of Boyd and La Fosse construct the intricacies of the “The Rumble” well-above an audience’s expectations. Even though everyone knows the results of the scene, the sound, lights, and dangerous moves at speeds almost too fast to see are extremely frightening.

Photo by Daniel Rader
Will Branner and Addie Morales (Tony and Maria) are as sweet, innocent, and in love as their characters can possibly be. Yet, there is honesty in their music and relationship that cautions them. Branner literally sets the tone of his naïve Tony with “Something’s Coming.” A few minutes later, he’s telling the world of his love in “Maria.” Rather slight in physique and very young looking, Branner’s vocal skills belie his years. Morales is a more genuine Marie than ever in other productions or movie. Besides her lovely soprano voice (with Branner in “Tonight”), Morales brings sincerity to Maria through her eyes and especially her smile.

Tyler Hanes’ Riff takes the accolades as the best dancer onstage. Add his clenched jaw and no-smile face, Hanes makes a formidable character. His counterpart, portrayed by Sean Ewing, dons his Bernardo with smooth bravado. Skyler Volpe, as Anita, is a musical director’s dream: she sings, she dances, and she acts with all skills equal.

Set Designer Kristen Robinson has built an inner-city tenement of 50+ years ago; tall and bleak with tinges of light and even stars. Maybe there is hope for these characters?