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Onstage: Review: West Side Story

By Rick Pender · July 23rd, 2008 · Onstage

BY Rick Pender | Posted 07/23/2008


Jersey Productions has moved from Covington's Carnegie Center to downtown's Aronoff Center for its third season.

The focus remains on classic works of musical theater, as the current offering is West Side Story.

Director Larry Smiglewski has assembled a cast of 27, and choreographer Vincent Briguccia has trained them to perform Jerome Robbins' iconic dances. That's no easy task, and the dancing is by and large worth watching -- especially "The Dance at the Gym" and the Puerto Rican women in "America." In the second act, however, the "Somewhere" dream ballet has a singer wearing a white toga and the cast in a heavy-handed and unnecessary tableau that distracts from the simplicity of two dancers who mirror Tony and Maria's story.

The performers, mostly from area universities, can sing Leonard Bernstein's score -- especially Andrea Scheu, who stands out as the fiery Anita, and Kelly Pekar as the sweet, innocent Maria. Most performers are the right age, but many don't look the part, especially the Jets wearing shirts and ties, for all the world resembling junior account executives at a 1950s ad agency.

Smiglewski fails to balance the show's tragic themes with its moments of humor, which are consistently too broad, particularly the comically jarring "Officer Krupke." Rather than evoking powerful emotion, this production too often simply chugs along without engaging.

The Aronoff's Jarson-Kaplan Theater is a better venue for Jersey's ambitious productions, a larger stage with more technical capacity than it had at The Carnegie. Blake Minor's functional design has an upper-level platform outfitted with chain-link fence. The platform shelters the 17-musician orchestra, conducted by Kelly Martin. Unfortunately, their performance is piped through speakers, and the balance is poorly managed: Percussion is consistently too piercing and singers are often overpowered.

In its first two seasons, Jersey Productions essayed shows it didn't quite pull off. Despite the new venue and a strong cast, that still seems to be a problem.

WEST SIDE STORY, presented by Jersey Productions at the Aronoff's Jarson-Kaplan Theater, continues through Saturday.


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