Woodlawn Theatre stages smokin' take on 'West Side Story'
Posted: Dec 15th, 2015
The Woodlawn Theatre’s take on “West Side Story” enthralls from the kinetic opening moments, in which the Sharks and the Jets battle for dominance of the streets, all the way to the devastating final moments.
The musical transports William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” from 16th century Italy to 1950s New York, where the enmity between the street gangs — the “American” Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks — runs deep. So it’s a huge problem when Tony (the baby-faced Kyle Krambeck), the one-time head of the Jets, falls for Maria (Mariela Flor Olivo), whose brother Bernardo (Travis Trevino) commands the Sharks.
Both Tony and Maria are looking for something beyond the path they’re expected to take in their lives. Maybe that’s why, against all odds, they find themselves drawn to each other at a dance. That scene, in which everything else in the world falls away except each other, is achingly beautiful. For those who know how the story ends, it’s also incredibly sad.
Director Christopher Rodriguez’s approach emphasizes the youth of the characters, deepening the poignancy of the tale. There is a youthful exuberance to his choreography, too, particularly during that opening scene and in the “Cool” and “I Feel Pretty” numbers. There’s also a sense of real danger whenever the Sharks and the Jets square off.
Krambeck and Olivo vividly convey the soul-rocking sensation of a deep and profound connection. There’s a romantic charge to every scene they have together. Krambeck paints a strong portrait of a young man in transition. And Olivo is a marvel, fully fleshing out Maria’s transformation from a girl reveling in her first love to a woman awash in grief. The final scene is a gut-puncher thanks to the skill of her performance.
There’s also genuine heat between Trevino and Alyssa Lopez, who gives a show-stopping performance as Bernardo’s wife, Anita. And Matthew Lieber is strong as Riff, Tony’s doomed best friend, as is Eric Garcia as Chino, Bernardo’s right-hand man.
The ensemble is solid, as well, tackling the choreography with finesse.
The orchestra, led by Darrin Newhardt, did Leonard Bernstein’s famed score justice, smoking from the first notes all the way to the finale. And designer Benjamin Grabill worked his usual magic with the set.
There were some sound issues here and there Saturday night — among other things, the first few lines of dialogue at the start of the second act were barely audible — but it seemed like adjustments were being made throughout the show, so it appears that that problem is being addressed.
Don’t let the show get away. And don’t wait to make reservations — performances are selling out.
“West Side Story” can be seen at 7:30 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays through Sept. 6 at the Woodlawn Theatre, 1920 Fredericksburg Road. Tickets cost $17 to $26 at woodlawntheatre.org or by calling 210-267-8388.