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Off Broadway National Tour of West Side Story Hits The Stage In Fresno

IN THE March 9 ISSUE

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by Joseph Ham

West Side Story has steadily become one of my all time favorite musicals. I love everything about it, from the music to the characters to all the varying emotions, I love every minute. These feelings were reaffirmed when the Jets and Sharks took the stage in the fantastic and exhilarating prologue scene at the Saroyan Theater in Fresno this week. Which is why it came as such a surprise to me when the off Broadway National Tour of West Side Story ended up leaving me…disappointed. Perhaps my expectations were too high, but I feel like expectations should be rather far up there when going to see a professionally produced musical.

Now, don’t get me wrong, the production is anything but bad. There are quite a few brilliant moments that made me smile, laugh, and want to jump out of my seat and applaud. However, the vast majority of these moments came not from the two lead characters, but from everyone around them. Theo Lincicki makes a powerful, commanding Riff. His performance gives good reason as to why Riff is the one in charge. Michelle Alves’s fiery Anita brings the character to life, and her voice matches her personality as it soars through one of my favorite numbers in the whole show, “America”. Andres Acosta makes a competent Bernardo, and Guy Mandia Jr.’s portrayal of Action is high energy and exciting. I could sit here and type all day about the great parts of the supporting characters and ensemble cast, but in short, they all do a fantastic job of making their scenes engaging and ultimately the most enjoyable parts of the show. Unfortunately, however, a solid ensemble cast and brilliant supporting characters don’t entirely make up for a lackluster leading man and lady.

That’s where we come to our unfortunate pair of star-crossed lovers, Tony and Maria. Before I go any further, I’d like to say that they were far from terrible, they just weren’t what I was expecting when I walked in the door. Addison Reid Coe (Tony) has a fine tenor voice (although he gets a bit whiny during the climax of the song “Maria”), but his acting is all over the place. Part of the time he seems like he’s hyped up on a sugar rush, and at others he seems lifeless. His delivery of Tony’s final line of Act 1 had me struggling to not laugh hysterically out of confusion. MaryJoanna Grisso (Maria) sings through Leonard Bernstein’s score effortlessly with her beautiful soprano voice. If only stage presence came to her as naturally as singing does. And that’s what ultimately ends up being this couples’ largest issue: a lack of chemistry. I found it very difficult to believe that these two were truly in love, and with that lost, what’s the point? This issue isn’t helped any by the incredibly awkward, foot-and-a-half or so height difference between the two.

With all that being said, don’t let this discourage you from going out to see this production of Bernstein and Sondheim’s musical classic, should you get the chance. The sets are very well conceived (especially the rumble under the highway), the choreography is absolutely fantastic, and there are plenty of exciting, enjoyable moments and performances that will certainly make it worth your while. Just don’t expect too many of them to come from the two most important characters.

Editor’s Note: Check out Reedley High School’s production of West Side Story at the RHS Performing Arts Building at 7:30 p.m. March 15, 16, 21, 22 and 2 p.m. on March 17. Tickets are Students $7 Adults $10 and available at the door.

Joseph Ham is a senior at Reedley High School and enjoys singing in choir, acting, being a part of RHS Drama Club, and Frank Sinatra.

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