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Music Review

Pasadena Pops Stages Lively Tribute to 'West Side Story'


Rachael Worby's timing in devoting an entire Pasadena Pops program to LeonardBernstein's "West Side Story" in Descanso Gardens on Saturday night was right on the mark.

Commemorating the 10th anniversary of Bernstein's death, it took place one day after what would have been his 82nd birthday. And the occasion had personal meaning, for Bernstein's Young People's Concerts inspired Worby to become a conductor in the first place.

Not only that, several ingredients in the performances really came together. The physical casting was dead-on, and so were the voices, filled with ample Broadway bravado and the right accents.

The Jets were dressed like present-day gangbangers, the Sharks' girls sang and danced exuberantly in "America," the young lovers Tony (Shaun Butler) and Maria (Joanna Mongiardo) were believable, and Christina Wilcox sang "Somewhere" movingly.

Although the street rhythms were a bit tight and the amplification system blasted the climaxes to near-rock concert levels, the Pasadena Pops played with precision and gusto.

Yet the trip through this endlessly gripping work that thrives upon its ambiguity wasn't as satisfying as it could have been, due to a strange, often redundant organizational scheme.

Rather than follow the thread of the tale throughout the evening, Worby opened the first half with a Broadway-style pre-curtain potpourri of tunes from the musical, then went straight into the "Jets' Song" with the cast, and devoted the rest of the half to the "Symphonic Dances" concert suite with orchestra alone.

The second half doubled back to retrace the love story through selected songs, starting with "Maria," with a few semi-staged sequences including a shadow-danced rumble behind a white cloth that created the false impression that Tony is stabbed to death during this sequence (it's actually Riff and Bernardo).

They could have packed in more of the score's numbers with the time spent reprising the same tunes two or three times.

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