West Side Story at John W. Engeman Theater Review

Dec. 2, 2015

On October 22nd, I saw a matinee performance of West Side Story at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport on a field trip with the school chorus. From the moment the actors danced onto the stage, there was a sense of excitement in the theater that made everyone anxious to see what would happen next.

West Side Story is definitely one of the most classic musicals ever to hit the Broadway stage, so in doing a production of the show, it needs to be done perfectly. Everyone has either seen West Side Story or heard of it, so people are walking into the theater with high expectations. I had never actually seen the movie or Broadway version of West Side Story, so I went into the show blind, unlike many of my classmates. With this, I had nothing to compare it to, but rather was able to see the show as it was for what it was.

The one thing I did know about the show was the music, which I can’t really critique this production on because it is so iconic. But, even though almost everyone has heard classics like “America” and “Tonight” before, the orchestra and singers onstage were able to make the score their own. The music was able to truly support the show, and set the tone for the scene.

The set design was true to the setting of the musical, with a chain link fence for the Jets and Sharks to climb on and a realistic Doc’s Drugstore for the Jets to conspire in. The concept of the drugstore set piece was especially well-done, so that it folded flat but was able to unfold easily by the cast to transform it into a realistic store. Even though most of the set seemed to be made out of thin, non-sturdy plywood, the cast was able to make it work and act as if it was all real items that were bought and not handmade.

The choreography of West Side Story is what it is mainly known for other than its music. Jerome Robbins, original choreographer from the Broadway musical, was able to somehow turn dancing into fighting, and choreographer Jeffry Denman was able to keep Robbins’ iconic moves while still adding his own flair to it. By doing this, Denman brought out the anger and hardships of the Jets and the Sharks perfectly through dance when words fell short. At times it did seem a bit messy on the stage with so much going on. From my seat in the second row, I was not able to appreciate all of Denman’s choreography, but rather became confused at where to look and who to pay attention to, especially since all characters played pivotal roles in the telling of this story.

But, stars Zach Trimmer and Samantha Williams as Tony and Maria, respectively, were the most impactful, and while not really dancing much, as Tony and Maria don’t dance, they complemented the score beautifully together in songs like “One Hand, One Heart” and “Tonight”, but were also able to hold their own in their own songs. One of Tony’s main solos is the haunting “Maria”, in which Trimmer truly makes the audience believe he is deeply in love with his Maria, to the point where people left wondering if they were together in real life. Williams as Maria brings girlish charm to “I Feel Pretty”, but sustains it in a rich and operatic tone, and is able to convey Maria’s true emotions through it.

The entire cast in general is the main reason why this show was able to do so well. A show like this needs a good cast to tell the story, and it was cast perfectly. The people in this show were able to bring new life to a classic story and make audience members feel as if it was a brand new production. They brought the 1950s to life, and truly conveyed the challenges and lifestyles of teenagers in that time period.

West Side Story at the John W. Engeman Theater ended its sold out run on November 8th and was an excellent reinvention of a classic show.