OGDEN — The first time I went to New York City – over 5 years ago – my friends and family all prepared me to see and experience some of the, “best theatre of your life.” I went to New York with atmospheric levels of high expectation, but when I saw my first show, Wicked, I wasn’t as impressed as I thought I would be. Now, before you Wicked fans start shouting, “blasphemy! heresy! Burn the witch, Adele Dazeem is my queen,” you should first understand where I’m coming from. The reason why I wasn’t impressed with the level of talent I saw in New York is because I had already seen it, in Utah. Locally, we have some of the most talented performers, directors, and stage managers that you’ll ever meet. And what I saw Saturday, was no exception. Arthur Laurents West Side Story, directed by Morgan Parry, wasn’t a life-changing theatrical experience for me, but it was, indeed, an experience full of life, and full of talent. The energy, precision, and care Parry took to tell this tragedy was profound.
First and foremost, the choreography was exquisite and executed with an almost war-like accuracy. Talese Hunt used the sweeping score, with music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, to her aid, crafting a painting of movement and expression that added such deep flavors, rich tones, and beautiful pictures. Each sequence was so well-rehearsed that I found myself being brought out of the moment and just shaking my head in disbelief. “How long did they have to rehearse to get it so right?” There were many times throughout the show, the performers moved a large 20-foot scaffolding set piece around the stage, while the rest of the cast danced through it, on it, and with it. It was a sight to behold to see these dancers confidently move around the stage, knowing that with one incorrectly placed foot, they’d be risking the danger of throwing the entire sequence off. The highlight though, was the dance in the gymnasium. The energy was palpable, thick, and real. The cast had a true sense of competition and rivalry which permeated into the audience. The high intensity dance-off compared to the subtle beauty of when Tony and Maria first meet was a beautiful juxtaposition that left me emotionally and visually satisfied.
With such a rigorously choreographed show, you’d think there would be some cast members who fell behind or didn’t rise to the level of the most talented. Not so. Each cast member attacked their roles and choreography with accuracy. Anita, played by Ashley Carlson, was the highlight of the evening. The grasp of her character, the ease of her dancing, and the subtlety with which she gave Anita, empowered the show and gave an air of professionalism. She ached with Maria, she was sensual and timid at just the right moments, and set upon with venom as needed. Brittany Shamy, created a charming, innocent, and youthful Maria – full of dreams, hopes, and expectations. When all of those things come crashing around her, Shamy gave a new name to grief. The moment of tragedy at the end of the play felt real, aided by Shamy’s beautiful portrayal of a broken heart as well as Parry’s direction.
Jaime Fuentes as Bernardo, had just the right amount of machismo and charisma. Creating a character that you liked, and yet disliked at the same time, was an enjoyable part of the show. Not only was he focused and determined, his dancing ability once again reminded me how much raw talent we have here locally. Tony, played by Tyler Brignone, added just the right amount of boyish charm with a flair of wisdom and maturity. His voice was a perfect fit for the role, and when meshed together with Shamy’s clear and resonant soprano tones, they created harmony. John Peterson, (Riff), had the look of a Jet and created a unique spin on his character. Instead of playing him as a rough leader, Peterson added a touch of vulnerability and softness which was an interesting choice, but one that worked.
All of the cast members were invested and focused. You could tell that each of them cared about the story they were telling. They believed in it, which made me believe in it. However, there are a few members of the supporting cast that are worth mentioning. Joshua Samuel Robinson, (Action), had such an intense energy the entire performance, that one couldn’t help but watch him in every number. Bonnie Beus Romney, (Anybodys), gave a joyous performance of a girl trying to fit in, in a world of men. Romney made me root for Anybodys success, and when she finally made her mark on the Jets, her entire character changed for the better.
There were a few audio mishaps – static, and missed cues – but nothing unforgivable. The lighting design was simplistic and fitting for the show, never distracting or overbearing. The set was mostly static, except for the moving scaffolding and a few other set pieces, which kept the visuals of the show flowing smoothly.
What Parry has created is her own take on a classic musical. Her ability to shape and mold the actors to tell the story in such a meaningful and believable way was refreshing and hopeful. Yes, this play is a tragedy, but I left feeling elated – happy for the future of the Ziegfeld Theatre – and in post-show shock. I was impressed with the level of talent and I was glad I could once again remind myself that some of the best theatre isn’t thousands of miles away, but truly in our own backyard.