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.

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