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“When You’re a Jet…” West Side Story at Proctors, Review

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West Side Story at Proctors, Review

West Side Story at Proctors“Without a gang, you’re an orphan,” goes Riff’s line in West Side Story, describing life as a gang leader in 1950s New York City. The show runs through August 21, 2011 at Proctors Theatre in Schenectady.

In this modernized adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Upper West Side teenager Tony dreams that something life-changing is coming. But his best friend Riff and their old gang the Jets are holding him back with their immature grudge against the immigrant Puerto Rican gang, the Sharks, led by Bernardo. The usual ebb and flow of activity between the two groups is disrupted by a romantic spark between Tony and Maria, Bernardo’s sister. The stakes rise, and violence escalates.

The story examines the role of nationality in the way humans generalize and discriminate. It is blunt in its addressing of the police brutality towards the Puerto Ricans. Both sides retaliate and fight, and in the end, it doesn’t matter who started it because both sides suffer losses. Maria finally tells the two gangs where the true blame lies: “We all killed him. I can kill, now. Because I hate, now.”

Ali Ewoldt created a remarkable transformation in her Maria, from youthful passion and excitement to absolute devastation. Kyle Harris’ gentle Tony was a picture of pure romantic love, and carried a distinct voice with dynamic volume that complimented Ewoldt’s soaring soprano. Harris seemed a little too detached from the reality of their situation when he had his soliloquy moments in “Something’s Coming” and “Maria,” but I might impute that to the plot.

The characters that truly took the show were Anita, played by a stately Michelle Aravena, and the Jet’s own hothead, Action, played by Drew Foster. Aravena’s lofty singing dominated “America,” one of the best songs in the show, which compared life in Puerto Rico to the superior life in America. Her character, Bernardo’s girlfriend (opposite a confident Michael Scirrotto), also represents a loss of sympathy towards Maria and Tony, a shift that Aravena plays with unfaltering conviction. Foster also brings forward his comedic side in “Gee, Officer Krupke,” which makes fun of the way the police deal with and blame juvenile delinquents. Foster displays everything from goofy mannerisms to diehard loyalty to the Jets, making his Action extraordinarily real.

James Youmans’ forced perspective set design gives the stage a thoughtfully detailed depth, particularly during the rumble, when the gangs meet under the bridge. With his precise employment of metal fixtures, Youmans creates a minimalist atmosphere to call attention to the dance rather than over-accessorize the place. Howell Binkley’s lighting flawlessly dramatized the emotional arc of the story with glaring hot orange during particularly intense moments, and cool blues for calmer scenes. One particularly bold choice was during the ballet, “Somewhere,” when a solid white backdrop was lit with shifting hues.

Yet the best and most dominating trait of this production remains dance. Peter Gennaro’s co-choreography of the fights is acrobatic and riveting. You might expect someone to feel some degree of fatigue with all of the jumping, running and sliding, but astoundingly, not one person faltered on opening night. It was a pleasure to watch the swing-style of the Jets’ “Cool,” while in “Dance at the Gym,” a cha-cha meshed with a more American pop style. This number also brought attention to the different styles of dress for the two gangs: the Puerto Rican boys wore full suits, girls in flouncy dresses, while the American boys wore vests with their girls in tight, short dresses. These simple but definitive costumes were designed by David C. Woolard.

Directed by David Saint (who has recreated Arthur Laurent’s original production), West Side Story is a production with flawless grace, scintillating variety, and precise chemistry that will leave you astonished by the candor of the social expectations they address and pleased with the ubiquitous quality with which the story is told.

West Side Story runs through August 21 at Proctors Theatre in Schenectady. Ticket prices vary. For more information, visit

Kate Smith is an Assistant Editor for The Free George.

The Free George is the online magazine and visitors’ guide of Upstate NY, covering things from Albany to Lake Placid, including Saratoga, the Lake George region and the Adirondacks. Check out our City Blogs section for our extended coverage areas as well.

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