There is an absolutely no holds barred, heart-breaking production of WEST SIDE STORY presented by Fiddlehead Theatre Company now playing at the Strand Theatre in Dorchester for six performances only. You MUST make time to see it. I’m talking thrilling voices and choreography, a beautiful, evocative set, and vibrantly staged production numbers that make use of the entire theater, stage and auditorium. I was moved and enthralled. This landmark of the American Musical theater is propelled by Leonard Bernstein’s stunning score, Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics, Arthur Laurents brilliant book, Jerome Robbins original choreography rendered here by Wendy Hall, an excellent 22-piece live orchestra, and directed by Stacey Stephens, his best effort yet with Fiddlehead.
The show is more relevant than ever, a modern retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, set among rival NYC city gangs in the 1950’s, The Sharks and The Jets. One night at a dance at the HS gym, the “All-American” Tony a former Jet, sets eyes on Maria the sheltered young sister of the leader of the Puerto Rican Sharks. They fall instantly in love and trigger a gang war. The rules they play by, now seem quaint: the Sharks and Jets challenge each other to a rumble with fists or switchblades, then shake hands on a time and place to fight. These days gangs strike suddenly, out of the dark, and fully loaded.
But the results are the same: revenge, racism, and blind hatred of “the other” escalating the body count and culminating in bitter tragedy all around. The battle for turf, identity, and becoming part of the fabric of the American dream has particular resonance now, as paranoia about immigration abounds post 9/11. But this production wisely trusts the classic story to tell itself unencumbered by obvious updated commentary and superb casting drives it home.
Soul-stirring lead performances by Jeffrey Zicker as Tony and the diminutive Kim Corbett as Maria make us feel every heartbeat, their voices reaching operatic heights and evoking the grandeur and depth of their feelings, as they see past their differences and only have eyes for each other.
Theo Lencicki is a cracker jack Riff, leader of the jets, while Gabriel Corey nearly steals the action as gang member “Action” in one of the most hilariously staged versions of “Gee, Officer Krupke” I’ve ever seen. As Shark leader Bernardo, Waldemar Quinones-Villanueva is sexy and sleek opposite Pamela Turpen’s sassy and beautiful Anita. The entire corps dances like a dream– too many to mention. And the costumes, while sometimes sloppily executed, provide a design concept that works: competing shades of black and white for the rival gangs, which is how they see each other until chastened by the blood of hard-won life lessons.
I repeat– DO NOT MISS this fantastic production of WEST SIDE STORY at THE STRAND THEATRE with only five more shows ending Sunday October 25!