WEST SIDE STORY(Based on a conception by Jerome Robbins)
Music by Leonard Bernstein
Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by Arthur Laurents
Entire Original Production Directed and Choreographed by Jerome Robbins
Artisan Center Theater
Director – Natalie Burkhart
Music Director—Richard Gwozdz
Scenic Designer—Eric Luckie
Designer – Wes Taylor
Lighting/Illuminations Designer—Doug Vandegrift
Sound Designer –Wes Taylor
Costume Designer – Brandy Raper
CAST (at reviewed performance)
Baby John—Griffin Hoch
Somewhere Soloist/Jet/Shark Girl Ensemble—Paloma Magana
Shark Girl Ensemble—Megan Roberts
Jet Girl/Shark Girl Ensemble—Zoe Adkins
Jet Girl/Shark Girl Ensemble—Jilliam Kirchdorfer
Jet Girl Ensemble—Audrey Watson
Glad Hand—Bill Brooks, Dan Johnston, Meredith Jeppson
Reviewed Performance: 7/21/2018
Reviewed by Genevieve Croft , Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
West Side Story has been referenced and parodied in many other mediums. From “Gee, Officer Krupke” being sung over and over again by a frustrated Larry David in the humorously R-rated HBO show, Curb Your Enthusiasm while being pursued by the police to this humorous reference in the hit 90’s television show, Frasier, when Frasier recalls that his father refused to take him to see West Side Story on his 8th birthday. Martin replies, “because of the gangs…that’s scary for kids.” Frasier argues, “even gangs that dance?!” Martin ends the conversation quipping, “especially gangs that dance.” Without prior knowledge of West Side Story, none of these references would not have garnered any laughs. And again, it all comes back to the original form of 3-D entertainment, the theatre. Now, onto the review of Artisan Center Theater’s West Side Story.
Director Natalie Burkhart brought together a fantastic ensemble (of all ages) and assembled a crew who demonstrated an overall understanding and honest portrayal of these tough and misunderstood characters in New York City. The crew knit together scenery, lighting and sound that enhanced the story being told by the characters. The cast (overall) was very young, however, I never felt as if I was watching a high school or “amateur-ish” production. It is apparent to me that the dedication and talent put forth from each actor and actress. In the final product, this was evident. What a tough piece of material to tackle- not only is the music and choreography difficult, but, West Side Story has become one of the great classics of modern musical theatre. One mistake or weakness could break the show. Ms. Burkhart and her ensemble succeeded in creating a well-done production that was performed on Saturday evening.
There were some apparent microphone and audio issues that plagued the entire production. At times, dialogue and singing was very hard to hear. Often times, as a Theatre Director and Educator I preach to my students that the most valuable asset to an actor is their audiences’ ability to be heard by the audience. If the audience cannot hear what is happening on stage, they tune out, and stop watching. Even though I have seen several productions of West Side Story, I had to focus very hard to hear on what was being said. A few times, I was pulled out of the moment, and I struggled to return to the world of the story due to the inability to hear. However, I am confident that these audio issues will work themselves out before the next set of performances in the run. Overall, the cast is very talented, and I am confident that this technical issue will be corrected.
Choreography was designed by Cody Walker. Mr. Walker did a phenomenal job of paying homage to the original production choreographer, Jerome Robbins. It is apparent that Mr. Walker has taken some of Mr. Robbins’ signature steps, and movements and incorporated both styles into an effective element of story telling for the stage. Movements were clean and concise, and were executed on stage well.
Set Designer Eric Luckie successfully transformed the theatre-in-the-round stage into multiple locations. I am always struck by how scenic designers are able to accomplish in a short amount of time, and with such precision for detail and care. Mr. Luckie effectively utilized the space, while also keeping the intimacy of the story. In a production with multiple locations, it can sometimes be difficult to fully invest details that convey each location. The attention to detail was inspiring. At times, I feel that this can be one of the most difficult tasks for a scenic designer in the arena theatre. Scenic designers are presented with the challenge of figuring out how to transform the space into something versatile that allows the audience to see all areas of the stage, while also allowing for constant scene and location changes. Mr. Luckie did a fantastic job conquering the challenges and obstacles that goes along with both areas. The scenic changes were seamless, and executed with ease.
Assisting the scenic designer, Illuminations Designer Doug Vandegrift carried through with his own detailing, creating large projections that were designed to “enhance” the different locations presented throughout the story. To me, these large images felt very out of place, and really did not add very much to the story. I understand what the images were intended to do, however, it left much to be desired. All images were very static, and two-dimensional, and I felt that it took away from the story. At times, there were very distracting, and added very little. In this circumstance, I would say “less is more.”
Costumes were designed by Brandy Raper. Overall, the wardrobe was exactly what I would expect for a production like this-colorful, similar to the film, and reminiscent of the time period. At times, I wondered what the time period was intended to be, as it seems a bit ambiguous in the designs and executions. Some costumes were more modern, while others were an accurate depiction of the mid 1950’s. It was difficult to distinguish (at times) the time period for the story.
Tanner Cockrum did a phenomenal job in the role of Jet’s leader, Tony. Through vocal intonation, facial expressions, and a youthful boyish charm, Cockrum successfully was able to portray the dual role of a misunderstood street tough, struck by love-the love of the forbidden fruit of Maria, sister to Bernardo (leader of rival gang, The Sharks.) His role was the most intense, and his presence on stage constant. Mr. Cockrum had some very intense and believable moments on stage, and I was very impressed with his vocal performance throughout the production. There were some breath-taking harmonies with Maria (played beautifully by Sophie Mings). Not only was I impressed with Mr. Cockrum’s performance, I was absolutely blown away to find out that he is entering the 9th grade. As Mr. Cockrum matures and expands his acting resume, he will certainly become a well-rounded actor. I look forward to seeing him in future productions.
In contrast to Mr. Cockrum’s performance of Tony, Sophie Mings was very convincing as young Maria. Her stage presence was nearly constant, never faltering in her delivery. Ms. Mings’ dialect was consistent, and she provided the audience with some very light-hearted moments, set to a very serious backdrop of plot. Ms. Mings’ had a lovely innocence on stage, and was consistently enthusiastic on stage. Brava, Ms. Mings!
Another standout was Ciara Cimino in the role of Anita.With a strong stage presence, and a marvelous singing voice, Ms. Cimino displayed some nice chemistry on stage with Bernardo (played impressively by Dawson Graham) and the youthful Maria. Ms. Cimino never faltered in her delivery, and allowed the audience to see the more heart-wrenching moments of lost love, and the segregation of Americans and Puerto Ricans at a less than accepting time in New York.
The most humorous moment of the production was the Jets’ performance of “Gee, Officer Krupke.” Standout performers in this number were Cameron Barkley as Action, Michael Hasty as Diesel, and Griffin Hoch as Baby John. While poking fun of the gruff Officer Krupke, and sing about the reasons that led them to join a gang. Full of puns and chock full of word play, the boys of the Jets’ integrate physical humor, facial expressions, and fantastic timing to make this number one of the most memorable of the production. Poor Officer Krupke (as he is told to “krup off”)-one of the best ways to end a musical number in Broadway history.
This production of West Side Story is worth seeing. The attention to detail evident in all aspects of this production makes for a satisfying experience. West Side Story is a musical that everyone should see. Not only is it a classic, but, it will introduce audiences to a classic, yet tragic Shakespearean love story. You don’t have much time to see West Side Story at Artisan Center Theater, like the romance between Tony and Maria, the engagement will be fleeting.
Plays through August 18th.
Artisan Center Theater
444 E Pipeline Rd, Hurst, TX 76053
Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays (7:30pm)
Seniors (60+) / Students $20
Children (12 & under) $9
Fridays (7:30pm), Saturdays (3:00pm / 7:30pm)
Seniors (60+) / Students $20
Children (12 & under) $11
For more information, and to purchase tickets, call: (817) 284-1200, or visit: http://www.artisanct.com.