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Theater Review : Tony, Maria Fail Chemistry Class

August 24, 1995|MARK CHALON SMITH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

BUENA PARK — As anyone with even a passing interest in musicals can tell you, "West Side Story" has plenty of the right stuff. A love story shadowed by danger, a social consciousness about bigotry and violence, jump-sexy dancing and some of the finest songs to ever reach Broadway.

It was the result of a dream collaboration, with Leonard Bernstein coming up with the notes, Stephen Sondheim the lyrics and Arthur Laurents the book. "West Side Story's" pedigree has carried it through the good and bad times ever since premiering at the Winter Garden Theatre in New York in 1957.

The good, of course, have been excellent stagings that knew how to utilize the musical's qualities. The bad, well, are ones that didn't. The outdoor Buena Park Civic Theatre production that recently opened isn't terrible, but it still belongs in the category of missed opportunities.

Director Kevin Calvin's mostly young cast isn't short on exuberance and determination. As the dueling gangsters, the Sharks and Jets, they sprint into John Charron's athletic and relatively demanding choreography with the energy of kids dashing through summer break. Their singing, while not polished, works best in the chorus numbers, when they enjoy a lot of belting.

These are small accomplishments, however. The show suffers in various other ways, both subtle and obvious. First, Calvin and his actors just can't get the beat right--while "West Side Story" should have a steady momentum building to its satisfyingly melodramatic finale, this production comes at you in fits and starts.

*

Then there are the main players.

Rod Burton as Tony and Sabrina Lu as Maria are likable enough, but they fail to generate any throb of romance that's needed for this thoroughly romanticized couple. Even when these lovers are supposed to be desperately, fatefully entwined, Burton and Lu seem more like youngsters still on their first or second dates.

The singing for both is mixed, with Lu clearly having the more dynamic pipes. Even so, the big signature numbers like "Tonight," "Somewhere" and "Maria" are not as rousingly operatic as they could be.

A pair of performers do catch the eye in supporting roles.

Vincent Aniceto's Bernardo, the Sharks' edgy leader, is hotblooded and graceful. And Ken Roht brings a loose quirkiness to Riff, Tony's best boy and all-around top Jet.

* "West Side Story," Buena Park Community Recreation Center, 8150 Knott Ave, Buena Park. Thursdays through Saturdays, 8:15 p.m. Ends Sept. 2. $5-$8. (714) 562-3844. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Rod Burton: Tony

Sabrina Lu: Maria

Ken Roht: Riff

Vincent Aniceto: Bernardo

Denise Vallin: Anita

Douglas MacGilchrist: Schrank

Timothy Roberts: Krupke

Mary Flewelling: Glad Hand

A Buena Park Civic Theatre production of the musical by Leonard Bernstein (score), Stephen Sondheim (lyrics) and Arthur Laurents (book). Direction and set design by Kevin Calvin. Musical direction: Joshua Carr. Choreography: John Charron. Costumes: Antony Padilla. Lighting: Jim Book. Sound design: David Edwards. Stage manager: Danny Farrell.

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