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Theater | THEATER REVIEW

Return of the Sharks and Jets

The touring production of 'West Side Story' is back with new leads and all of that memorable Bernstein-Sondheim music.

June 12, 1997|DON SHIRLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Alan Johnson's staging of "West Side Story" is back in the Southland at the Pantages Theatre after earlier stops in Costa Mesa and Pasadena, but with a different set of leads.

The true stars of any "West Side Story" are composer Leonard Bernstein, lyricist Stephen Sondheim and original director and choreographer Jerome Robbins. Johnson's professed aim was to simulate their original as much as possible, and he generally succeeds.

Robbins' spectacular dances are performed by a dynamic young ensemble whose cylinders are indeed clickin', to borrow one of Sondheim's lyrics. Whether it's the fierce tension of the prologue or "Cool," the sensuous energy inside the gym, or the ethereal lyricism of "Somewhere," this cast makes every movement count.

Jeremy Koch's Tony certainly looks like the kind of dreamboat who could make Maria swoon, but his singing voice is a shade too light--not an uncommon problem in a part that sends the singer up into the vocal stratosphere. His soaring is lovely, but the lower register sounds a bit thin.

His spoken scenes with Sharen Camille's Maria display convincing chemistry. Camille sings with considerable authority and brings an adorable sense of fun to "I Feel Pretty."

Michelle DeJean's Anita makes waves with every entrance, just as Anita should. Christian Borle scores as the cocky Riff and Kevin Albert as the glowering Bernardo, with Borle making up in attitude what he lacks in size in the matchups with Albert.

As the secondary leader of the Jets, Charlie Brumbly strikingly embodies his character's name, Action.

Donald Chan's 24-piece orchestra makes lustrous sounds. The only apparent technical snafu on opening night was a strangely swaying set of fire escapes in the background of one scene. An earthquake? Or maybe it was simply the star-crossed lovers' passion that made the earth move.

BE THERE

"West Side Story," Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. Tonight-Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 2 and 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Ends Sunday. $22-$48. (213) 365-3500. Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes.

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