By Chris Heide
One of the most beautiful things about the 5th Avenue Theatre is that they take great risks in producing high calibred, Broadway quality shows. Sometimes, the risks do not pay off and the outcome are a handful of shows that have been decent at best. However, more often than not, the 5th Avenue showcases some of the best musical theater in the country. Whether and original production, or reimagination of a classic musical, the 5th Avenue Theatre always manages to take chances that are intended to spark conversation and promote artistic prowess.
The current production of West Side Story is one of those success stories. The sleek and stylish production, the 5th Ave Theatre manages to breathe new life into a tried-and-true Broadway standard. In collaboration with Spectrum Dance Theatre, this production of West Side Story feels incredibly polished and memorably emotional.
“There are very few shows that can consistently elicit a tearful response from the audience and then release that sadness into a moment of hope; West Side Story does that. It leaves us changed,” said The 5th Avenue Theatre’s Producing Artistic Director and director of West Side Story Bill Berry. “You may go to see the incredible dancing and a beautiful story told beautifully, but when it ends, you are slightly changed as you walk out the door. It does it magically. And that’s the subversive power of musical theater.”
There are numerous strong elements within this production. The choreography is masterful, the set-design is inviting, the pacing is energetic, and the casting, for the most point, is nearly perfect. Among the standout performances are William Branner as Tony and Danielle Marie Gonzalez as Anita. Branner is exceptionally good, bringing a boyish charm and major vocal prowess to the ambitious role of Tony. None of the performers are miscast; however, Rebbekah Vega-Romero, who makes her 5th Avenue Theatre debut to star as Maria, is a bit underwhelming. While her acting abilities are amiable, Vega-Romero lacks the vocal range to match that of Branner. As such, some of the most emotionally resonant vocal moments of the show lack as much punch as they should have. An excellent example is Somewhere, one of the most notable power ballads in all of musical theatre. What should be a magnanimous moment of vocal triumph and emotional depth ends with a more of a whimper than an emotional bang.
Overall, West Side Story is brilliantly produced by the 5th Avenue Theatre. It is Broadway caliber theatre at a reasonable price and a must see for any die-hard theatre lover.