Rumble In Carmel
Singing, dancing, acting, staging--It all works together in Pac Rep's current West Side Story.
Thursday, March 8, 2001
Perhaps more than any other theatrical form, the musical requires that every component of the evening contribute to the overall success of the show: set, lights, sound, costumes, choreography, music, singing, timing and acting. Everything must work in excellent concert.
We are, after all, asked to take a bigger leap in suspending our disbelief when people get up and dance and sing in the middle of the action. Few things are more unbearable than a bad musical production. Fortunately, in Pacific Repertory Theater''s opening season production of West Side Story, directed by Stephen Moorer, all the pieces come together beautifully.
Briefly, West Side Story is a modern day adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. Instead of warring families we have warring gangs--Anglo, the Jets, and Puerto Rican, the Sharks. Tony and Maria of each respective group meet, fall in love, and suffer the consequences of intolerance. It is a story that continues to resonate with audiences because it is a story that never goes away. The Jets and the Sharks have been fighting over the same forgotten and decrepit corner of the world since the beginning of time. The names and complexions change but the circumstances remain the same; the poor set upon the poorer for a very small piece of the pie
Mark Haniuk''s set makes a powerful first impression and consists of dingy tenement buildings backed by a high chain link fence. Fire escapes that lead nowhere and metal gates to keep one out--or in, as the case may be--add to the overall atmosphere of limitation and imprisonment within which these characters live.
The strength and vitality of Susan Cable''s choreography is evident in the very first number. There is a visceral quality to the dancing that tugs at the observer''s nerve endings--for a short time we all are Jets. Most of the big number productions were equally successful--especially "Gee, Officer Krupke." Of course, all the great choreography in the world goes nowhere without good dancing. An ensemble is only as good as its weakest "ball change," and this particular cast does justice to Cable''s vision. Each performer was equally committed to each move--the emotional energy was even and the ability overall was high.
Music, of course, is an essential part of the event, and Stephen Tosh has gathered a relatively small group of musicians that sound like a relatively large group of musicians. The only quibble I have is that the synthesizer tended to dominate the other instruments.
A fine stage director I worked with once told me that in casting musicals he generally sacrificed good singing for good acting. Why? Because a fine actor will make us believe in the character and hence we will believe in the song. A fine singer who can''t create a believable character has lost the audience to the song, as well.
Fortunately, Moorer hasn''t had to make that choice here. Both Justin Gordon as Tony, and Erica Racz as Maria acquitted themselves very well on both counts--singing and acting. Lovely. In fact, this show boasts a good number of fine performances. MaryAnn Schaupp-Rousseau and Paul Fakaros as Anita and Bernardo were commanding presences and created sparks that bounced off the quieter energy of Gordon and Racz. Tim Hart as Doc was heartbroken and heartbreaking as the unwilling witness to the violence of the world. He played a small island of reason in the chaos of slum life and through him we experience empathy for these angry violent youth. Officer Krupke is a great role for a comedic actor to sink his teeth into and certainly Rob Devlin does it every justice (no pun intended). Last, but certainly not least, is Vinny Cardinale as the Jets'' leader, Riff. In perhaps the strongest performance of the evening, Cardinale brought many nuances to this surprisingly complex character. He was by turns childish, churlish, vulnerable, tough, impulsive, manly, and desperate. A fine job.
Kathryn Hart''s costume design is, as usual, spot on. The performers wore their characters as well as played them. The difficult thing about praising a lighting design is that if it is good the audience isn''t conscious of it. A good design enhances the mood, sets the tone, is essential to the entire mise en scene but does not generally call attention to itself. And I would dare say that the audience had no cause to complain about Steve Judge''s lighting scheme--it was dynamic when it was called for and subtle when appropriate.
West Side Story plays Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays at 2pm, through April 8. Golden Bough Theater, Monte Verde and 8th, Carmel. Tickets are $18-26/general, $11-13/students and seniors, and $5/kids. 622-0100.