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Critic's Choice

Review: A reinvented 'West Side Story' at the Chance Theater

July 18, 2012|By David C. Nichols
  • Doug Catiller / True Image Studio
Doug Catiller / True Image Studio (m7c4ztpd20120718073742/600 )

It’s not just the exposure to countless editions of “West Side Story” that causes us to stagger dazed and elated from the Chance Theater. Less a revival than a whole-scale reinvention, this stunning chamber version of the landmark 1957 musical by Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim and Arthur Laurents yields breathtaking, deeply moving results.

Dispensing with the original iconography of Jerome Robbins’ epochal staging, director Oanh Nguyen and choreographer Kelly Todd concoct an elemental, viscerally charged production that nonetheless honors the property’s “Romeo and Juliet” source.

Placing the audience on either side of a central thoroughfare, with catwalks behind our heads, Nguyen infuses the feuding Jets and Sharks with near-Brechtian impact. Todd’s inspired work reconceives the street battles and social dances via a choreographic vocabulary as eloquent as it is timeless.

Although musical director Robyn Wallace's six-piece combo cannot mirror Bernstein’s near-symphonic scope, she certainly locates the requisite keynotes.

The designs are lean and evocative, particularly Anthony Tran’s omni-period costumes and KC Wilkerson’s extraordinary lighting.

Ultimately, this “West Side” scores in its triple-threat performers, who bring unflinching investment to the concept, revitalizing Bernstein and Sondheim’s evergreen songs and Laurents’ purple parlance. As star-crossed Tony and Maria, Keaton Williams and Gina Velez are wonderful, angelic of voice, touching in their chemistry. Gasper Spinoza’s restless Riff and Robert Wallace’s imperious Bernardo suggest two sides of the same angry coin; Chelsea Baldree makes a vivid, nuanced Anita; and so forth, throughout a sterling cast.

If they don’t erase the longstanding template, they memorably illuminate its core, from the establishing gestures of the Prologue to a gracefully heartfelt “Somewhere” ballet, with the symbolic ending a pertinent masterstroke. It typifies the ingenuity by which all concerned bring an established classic to electrifying new life.

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“West Side Story,” Chance Theater, 5552 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim Hills. 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends Aug. 12. $45. (714) 777-3033 or www.chancetheater.com. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.

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