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“West Side Story” Captivates at The Muny

Harry Hamm
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harry star 4andahalfstars West Side Story Captivates at The Muny

In the final moments of opening night of “West Side Story” at The Muny, sadness and stillness pervaded the night. Over 8,000 people sat stunned and silent, some with tears. The cicadas chirped on cue, as if they were part of the show. It was a moment of high drama that is rare for a stage the size of The Muny, and Muny captured it exquisitely.

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The older “West Side Story” gets, the more relevant it becomes. Its theme of young love amidst the thorns of prejudice and violence will likely never be dated.

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Ali Ewoldt appears as Maria, the star-struck young woman just arrived in New York from Puerto Rico. Kyle Den Massey is Tony,  a young man from the non-Puerto Rican element. Their attraction for one another is strictly forbidden, but that means little to the passionate pair.

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Natalie Cortez is Anita, Maria’s sister-in-law. Ewoldt, Massey and Cortez form the familial framework from which this story of gangs and tensions springs. Ewoldt and Cortez have voices that beautify the night air. Massey is a fine actor, but he seemed to be struggling with the singing challenge, especially in Act I and in some of the numbers he shares with Ewoldt. Well, it was opening night. Ken Page as Doc the druggist is the voice of societal frustration in this show, and he turns in a wonderful performance.

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You may think you know “West Side Story” and that you’ve seen it before, but this production has such distinction and power that it really shouldn’t be missed. The Muny orchestra under James Moore masters the difficult score and brings it out so beautifully it borders on breathtaking. Set design by Robert Mark Morgan is uniquely effective, and different. Chris Bailey’s choreography is as good as any you’ll see in this show, and the fights and violence have anything but “pretend” significance.

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“West Side Story” is a show born of Broadway legends. The challenge in producing it is respecting that lineage and giving it spectacular, heartfelt meaning. The Muny has outdone itself, in a season full of surprises and achievements of such stature that by now, we shouldn’t be surprised. Bravo!

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