NY Times Review: ‘West Side Story’ at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport

N.Y. / REGION | THEATER | NORTHPORT

Review: ‘West Side Story’ at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport
By AILEEN JACOBSON

SEPT. 25, 2015

From the first sinewy notes of Leonard Bernstein’s music and the first hard-edged finger snaps of glowering young men prowling across the stage, it’s clear that the production of “West Side Story” at the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport is on the right track.

As the musical’s mostly wordless prologue continues, the dancers portraying the Sharks and the Jets, opposing gangs in 1950s Manhattan, execute stylized acrobatics that suggest palpable danger while also staying true to the elegant, balletic choreography. Igor Goldin, the director; Jeffry Denman, the choreographer; and Trey Compton, the assistant director and fight choreographer, have found the balance between a realistic portrayal of violence and an artful depiction of it.
Jerome Robbins, who directed and choreographed the original 1957 production (and contributed the idea for the musical), created the template that the Engeman production follows — but not slavishly. The show has been tailored for a more intimate theater and a smaller stage than those that housed either the original or any of its four Broadway revivals. More important, they have resurrected the emotional urgency of a show that may now seem touchingly antiquated with its comic-relief interludes and clean-cut juvenile delinquents.

When it first opened, the musical shocked many critics and audience members. Referring to the gang warfare theme, Brooks Atkinson wrote in The New York Times in 1957 that “very little of the hideousness has been left out.”

The plot, based on Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” is especially affecting here because of the appealing cast. Tony, a Polish-American former member of the Jets, is played by Zach Trimmer, who looks athletic enough to have been a gang leader but has a sweet smile that turns charmingly goofy whenever he thinks about Maria, the young Puerto Rican woman he meets at a dance. Beforehand, anticipating that good things are about to happen, he sings a lyrical “Something’s Coming,” and immediately afterward he delivers a haunting “Maria” filled with delicate tenderness. (The memorable lyrics of all of the songs are by Stephen Sondheim. Arthur Laurents wrote the musical’s book. Along with Bernstein, they form a starry triumvirate.)
As Maria, Samantha Williams looks and moves like the teenager she is supposed to be and speaks in a girlish voice. It’s a surprise to hear her singing voice, rich and operatic, bringing mature nuances to the wistful songs she shares with Mr. Trimmer’s Tony, including “Tonight” and “Somewhere.” She holds her own in a face-off with Karli Dinardo, who gives a strong performance as Anita, the girlfriend of Maria’s brother Bernardo, leader of the Sharks. After a rumble that results in two deaths, Anita sings an angry “A Boy Like That,” warning Maria to stay away from Tony, while Maria counters with a plaintive “I Have a Love.” The duet could turn maudlin but here remains taut and heartbreaking.

Sam Wolf, who plays Riff, leader of the Jets, is another standout. An impressive dancer, he is one of the few gang members who looks tough. (Others just dance tough.) Ashley Pérez Flanagan takes a shining turn in the comic song “America” as the lone holdout among the Puerto Rican girls who prefers her previous home to New York. The boys’ equivalent is “Gee, Officer Krupke,” in which Scott Shedenhelm steps up as the lead satirizer of the police officer who hounds the gangs.
The orchestra, under the direction of James Olmstead, provides lush support, and the set, stylishly designed by D T Willis, combines abstract elements with realistic ones in ways that reflect the balance between artifice and realism in the choreography. (It’s a shame that it appears to be made of cardboard or ultra-thin plywood.) It includes a real chain-link fence that the skilled dancers have no trouble climbing over — not even Melissa Hunt as Anybodys, a girl who wants to join the Jets. The costumes by Tristan Raines are mostly true to the 1950s, though the pristine matching tennis shoes worn by five of the Jets are a little disconcerting.

The scuff-free footwear, however, doesn’t stop the Jets actors or the rest of the cast from expressing their characters’ frustrations and desires through passionate dance.
“West Side Story” continues through Nov. 8 at the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport, 250 Main Street. More information: 631-261-2900 or engemantheater.com.

BWW Review: The Engeman’s Exquisite WEST SIDE STORY

BWW Review: The Engeman’s Exquisite WEST SIDE STORY

September 23
BWW Review: The Engeman's Exquisite WEST SIDE STORYCelebrating their 50th show, The John W. Engeman Theatre of Northport has mounted a truly exquisite production of the iconic Tony winning musical West Side Story. The tale, of course, centers on Maria and Tony in a modern day – 1957 modern day – Romeo and Juliet situation. Tony and his friends have formed The Jets, though when we meet Tony, he has since left the gang, while their arch enemies, The Sharks, is headed up by Maria’s brother, Bernardo portrayed by Nikko Kimzin. Maria and Tony meet at a school dance and fall in love – forbidden in their worlds.

The Broadway caliber cast is absolutely divine under the fantastic direction of Igor Goldin. Zach Trimmer wonderfully portrays Tony and Long Island native Samantha Williams is stunning as Maria. They’re a magnificent team and superbly sing the classic Leonard Bernstein (music)/Stephen Sondheim (lyrics) score. A heartbreaking number is their rendition of “Somewhere”

Also brilliant is Karli Dinardo as Anita, Bernardo’s girlfriend. She and the girls did an astounding rendition “America” with energetic dancing choreographed by Jeffry Denman. Also a fantastic – and hilarious – performance is the guys’ “Gee, Officer Krupke”. They left the sold out audience in absolute stitches. Their altering impressions of Officer Krupke, facial expressions, and general pranks during the performance practically resulted in a standing ovation.

Another highlight is the set created by DT Willis. The large stage accommodates the site of the fights, Maria’s corner house with balcony, and the iconic “Dance at the Gym” beautifully. This is enhanced gorgeously by Zach Blane’s lighting design band Tristan Raines’ dazzling costumes complete with Maria’s fabulous purple dress. Additionally, it is always thrilling to have a live orchestra; this one strongly led by music Director James Olmstead.

To put it plainly, West Side Story is indeed another “must see” for the Engeman Theatre. Is it a cheerful story? No. Is this show done consistently? Sure. Nonetheless, created is a thrilling story for the ages and this incarnation is one that the creators would be incredibly proud of and should not be missed.

West Side Story is presented by the John W. Engeman Theatre of Northport, Long Island, through November 1st. Based on a conception of Jerome Robbins, Book by Arthur Laurents, Music by Leonard Bernstein, Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Directed by Igor Goldin, Choreography by Jeffry Denman, Scenic Design by DT Willis, Costume Design by Tristan Raines, Lighting Design by Zach Blane, Sound Design by Laura Shubert, Hair & Wig Design by Leah Loukas, Prop Design by Eric Reynolds, Casting by Wojcik/Seay Casting, Stage Management by Sarah Hall, Music Direction by James Olmstead, Associate Choreographer Lauren Cannon, Assistant Director/Fight Choreography by Trey Compton. For more information and to purchase tickets, please call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

The Reviews Are Out! West Side Story is a HIT!

What an honor to be part of this extraordinary show! West Side Story opened last week and all of the reviews have been phenomenal. Check out the wonderful news and let us know what you think! Leave your comments below.

NYtheaterguidetop5-Final-9-7-2013

“…{They} found the balance between a realistic portrayal of violence and an artful depiction of it.”
"..superbly sung and choreographed show.."
“..superbly sung and choreographed show..”
“The Engeman’s “West Side Story” is a rare, not-to-be-missed opportunity to truly appreciate an American theatrical treasure.”
“The entire cast of this performance is fabulous.”
“To put it plainly, West Side Story is indeed another “must see” for the Engeman Theater.”
"..wows audiences with a top-notch cast who bring this tearful, tragic story to life.."
“..wows audiences with a top-notch cast who bring this tearful, tragic story to life..”

Smithtown Matters: THEATER REVIEW – ‘West Side Story’

THEATER REVIEW – ‘West Side Story’

Produced by: John W. Engeman Theater, Northport

Reviewed by: Jeb Ladouceur

‘West Side Story’ is invariably described as an American musical suggested by Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet.’ That is akin to stating that a ham sandwich is inspired by Easter. Stephen Sondheim, Leonard Bernstein, and Jerome Robbins are all fortunate to have had expert press agents, but for them to invoke The Bard in this crotch-grabbing, expletive-riddled show, borders on literary sacrilege.

That said, the sometimes tedious story about young love sprouting in the unlikely atmosphere of Manhattan’s pre-Lincoln Center upper west side has been ambitiously produced, and executed with inexhaustible flair on by the Company.

Indeed, neither director Igor Goldin, nor choreographer Jeffry Denman, need drop William Shakespeare’s magic name to win accolades for the energetic undertaking that runs at the plush Engeman thru November 8th. At the conclusion of its opener on September 19th, the sold-out audience was on its feet cheering the principals, Zach Trimmer (Tony), Samantha Williams (Maria), and Karli Dinardo (Anita) in their leading roles.

‘West Side Story’ is known primarily for its memorable Bernstein tunes, secondarily for its Sondheim lyrics, and finally for its book by Arthur Laurents. Significantly, the Broadway musical neither won (nor was even nominated for) Tonys in any of those categories. The show (which was up against an endearing ‘Music Man’ in the bidding that year) did capture the coveted awards for choreography and scenic design in 1958, however.

Visit The Engeman in the next six weeks and you’ll see why.

In the current mounting of the story built on a race-based rivalry between two neighborhood gangs, The Sharks and The Jets, the shows dancers perform some of the most perfectly executed movements ever carried out on a Long Island stage … or any venue, for that matter. In sequence after sequence, we are treated to synchronization that is nothing short of eye-popping. From first routine to finale, every finger, every toe, and every swirling skirt produces the kind of symmetry we’ve come to expect only in the artificial milieu of motion pictures.

What unerringly coordinated dancers these young people are! Throughout the show-stopping dance number, ‘America,’ for instance, I literally held my breath as the indefatigable Tori Simeone, Karli Dinardo, Victoria Casillo, and Ashley Marinelli danced in perfect harmonization to James Olmstead’s nine-member orchestra. The effect was spellbinding.

This is not to imply that the current Engeman offering is purely a dance-fest. The romantic leads in this excellent ‘West Side Story’ bring remarkably well-trained voices to the production. One would never guess that Zach Trimmer’s pitch-perfect tenor or Samantha Williams’ sweet soprano are enhanced by veteran sound designer, Laura Shubert. In the ballads ‘Maria’ and ‘Tonight’ Trimmer and Williams provide ideal balance for the raucous, combative vocals of ‘Cool’ and ‘The Rumble’ hammered home by the warring neighborhood factions.

With each new musical that the team of Richard T. Dolce and Kevin J. O’Neill presents, it becomes increasingly obvious that there’s nothing The Engeman can’t produce … and produce well. Just when we thought that ‘The Music Man’– and ‘A Chorus Line’ couldn’t be topped … along comes director Goldin with this superbly sung and choreographed show. It’s a staging that’ll make you glad you came to Northport’s swanky Main Street playhouse for a look see.

Newsday Review: West Side Story’ review: A classic musical superbly done

 

September 21, 2015 8:04 PM

By STEVE PARKS steve.parks@newsday.com

REVIEW

Arguably the greatest American musical, “West Side Story” lost the 1958 Tony for best musical

to “The Music Man.” Igor Goldin, who previously directed “The Music Man” for the Engeman

Theater, now has directed both shows on the Northport stage.

A side-by-side comparison proves — again — that “West Side Story” was robbed. (Credit where

credit is due: book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim,

based on Jerome Robbins’ direction, choreography and concept.)

But a masterpiece that requires more than competent execution doesn’t often measure up to

its inspired source material. The Engeman’s “West Side Story” is a rare, not-to-be-missed

opportunity to truly appreciate an American theatrical treasure.

Oh, we could quibble about such anachronisms as slit-up-to-here mini-dresses on the girlfriends

of the Jets. Or that Anita may not “pass for” Puerto Rican. But alternative casting adds to the

rich fabric of this American-by-way-of-Shakespeare fable that feels so contemporary with

immigration, street gang and firearm issues upfront today.

From the opening notes of the Jets-vs.-Sharks prologue, we feel the tension of a neighborhood

transitioning from established immigrants to newcomers (Puerto Rican). Testosterone-fueled

punks led by Riff (chest-thumping Sam Wolf) and Bernardo (lightning-tempered Nikko Kimzin)

battle over turf.

Tony, the Jets’ erstwhile leader now working at a drugstore, wants no part of their shenanigans.

But after meeting a girl from the “other side,” Bernardo’s kid sister Maria, he falls instantly in

love and obeys her entreaties to stop a fight between the gangs. His intercession (spoiler alert)

leads to a “Romeo and Juliet” denouement, with an all-too-familiar modern twist.

Zach Trimmer as Tony and Samantha Williams as Maria are so appealing as a couple that their

“Tonight” duet thrillingly reminds us of the hormonal power of first-sight love, heartbreakingly

celebrated in “I Feel Pretty.”

As Anita, Karli Dinardo exudes defiance and vulnerability (“America,” “I Have a Love”). Ashley

Perez Flanagan delivers a dreamy “Somewhere” in the balletic ensemble number delicately

choreographed by Jeffry Denman on DT Willis’ abstract urban set (flawless accompaniment by

James Olmstead’s orchestra).

Each cast and crew member deserves plaudits. Sondheim, the sole surviving “West Side Story”

creator, would be proud, we believe.

WHAT “West Side Story”

WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays through

Nov. 8, John W. Engeman Theater at Northport, 250 Main St.

TICKETS $69-$74; 631-261-2900, engemantheater.com

NY Theatre Guide Review: ‘West Side Story’ at John W. Engeman Theater

Theatre Review: ‘West Side Story’ at John W. Engeman Theater

Samantha Williams & Zach Trimmer. Photo by Michael Decristofaro.

Even if you have never seen West Side Story performed, you probably know something about it.  Classic shows have a way of infiltrating various other aspects of life, so much so in some cases, that without ever having seen a particular show you could even be referencing it unawares.  Whether it be a line, a quip, a great joke or a song, the classics are swirling all around us every day influencing even those who have yet to learn to appreciate them.  West Side Story is certainly no exception.  For anyone who has ever found themselves humming a strain of Bernstein’s bewitching music, or singing Sondheim’s memorable lyrics, they know this to be true.  It could be hearing “I Feel Pretty” playing in your mind as you look in the mirror, or the lyrics “…everything free in America, for a small fee in America”, running through your head at a particularly dissatisfying moment.  No matter your previous experience, be it great or small, familiar or new, the Engeman Theater’s wonderful production of West Side Story will send you home humming and definitely knowing why.

The entire cast of this performance is fabulous.

With a book by Arthur Laurents, and directed here by Igor Goldin, West Side Story may best be described as a 1957’s Romeo and Juliet.  The Upper West Side of Manhattan is in the middle of a turf war between two rival gangs: The Sharks, comprised of Puerto Rican immigrants, and The Jets, consisting of Polish-Americans.  When Maria, the sister of Lead Shark Bernardo, and Tony, the founder of the Jets meet and fall in love, the hate and prejudices of the opposing sides lead to inevitable heartbreak, but hopefully understanding for the future.  Along the way are fabulous songs, and energetic dance sequences, which will transport you back to a different time with a universal message.

The entire cast of this performance is fabulous.  Zach Trimmer plays Tony with a natural ease that is a pleasure to watch.  His fantastic voice harmonized beautifully with the crystal clear soprano of Samantha Williams as Maria.  Her charming portrayal highlights Maria’s youth, while the chemistry between she and Trimmer bring the romance to life.  Nikko Kimzin is a convincing Bernardo with wonderful dance skills, while Karli Dinardo as his fiery girlfriend Anita brings great attitude and believable emotion to her character.  Lead Jet Riff is played by Sam Wolf, whose triple-threat skill set proves him worthy of the role.  Leer Leahy is a perfect Doc, along with the talents of Mark T. Cahill as Shrank/Gladhand, and Rick Malone as Officer Krupke.  The large ensemble performs superbly.

Bolstering the performance is the terrific costuming by Tristan Raines, and the fun and enthusiastic choreography by Jeffry Denman.  Brilliant sound design by Laura Shubert enables the existence of both the quiet and lively moments, with the lyrics and music being equally discernible without one overpowering the other.  Completing the magic is the beautifully performed score by Music Director James Olmstead and the entire Band.  While not the happiest of stories it’s true, this classic is beloved by multiple generations.  Regardless of your familiarity with West Side Story, this production is worth seeing.

Running Time: Approximately 2 ½ hours including one 15 minute intermission.

Advisory: Sexual references and violence.

West Side Story is playing at the John W. Engeman Theater through November 8, 2015.  The theater is located at 250 Main St., Northport NY.  For tickets call the box office at (631) 261-2900 or click here.

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