Here is one thing you need to know about the musical West Side Story, playing through Feb. 14 at Show Palace Dinner Theatre: If you intend to go see it, buy your ticket soon. This production is so beautiful, so moving, so incredibly well executed that once word gets out, there won't be a ticket left to buy.
West Side Story starts with some impressive advantages — Leonard Bernstein's music, Stephen Sondheim's lyrics and Arthur Laurents' book. Add Jerome Robbins' ground-breaking choreography — which the Show Palace uses in this productions, thanks to director Jill Godfrey's connections to a former Robbins assistant — and, of course, a story inspired by William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.
But even all that doesn't guarantee a successful show. It also takes a perfectly chosen cast of singers and dancers; deft direction; good music (Phyllis Gessler) and sound (Gerald Michaels), especially if it's recorded; smooth scene (Tim Dow) and set (Todd Everest) changes; fine lighting (Godfrey), and costumes (Pat Werner). And this show has all that in spades.
The show itself is about racial prejudice, anti-immigrant hatred and, ultimately, the redemptive power of love.
Show Palace newcomers (but certainly not new to the professional stage ) Matthew Frusher and Jillian Rossi are simply stunning as star-crossed lovers Tony and Maria, their voices well suited to this operatic musical. Their music pedigrees are from New York's American Musical and Dramatic Academy (him) and the Boston Conservatory (her), schools with high admission standards and skilled training. True, Frusher got off to a slow start on opening night (who wouldn't, after 11 straight days of almost nonstop rehearsal), but by the end of Act 1, he hit his stride and showed what he can do.
And if their duets (Tonight; One Hand, One Heart) and Rossi's I Have a Love don't tear out your heart, then you don't have a heart.
Then there's the dancing — muscular, athletic, acrobatic, balletic by turns — done with energy and enthusiasm by the 22 dancer/singers, who truly burn up the floor. This is a classy show, done with breathtaking class.
Watch for Austin Price as Riff, leader of the self-proclaimed "American" gang, the Jets. He doesn't have the stereotypical dancer's slender physique, but he explodes with energy, and he nails Riff's bluster and bravado right down to the last sneer. Another Show Palace newcomer, Jake Rura, is magic as Maria's brother, Bernardo, leader of the Puerto Rican gang, the Sharks, and boyfriend to Maria's best friend, Anita, played with foot-stomping fire and passion by Heather Baird.
The Jets — Action (Matty Colonna), Diesel (Richie MacLeod), A-rab (Vince Orabona), Baby John (Steve Jones) and Snowboy (Jason De Bello) — get their chance to shine in the much-needed comic relief number, Gee, Officer Krupke, a spoof of bleeding-heart social workers' excuses for delinquent behavior.
Ralph Prentice Daniel is spot on as the slimy Lt. Schrank. When the Jets shout at the Sharks, "Go back where you came from," and Lt. Schrank tells the Jets his disdain for those "spics" and says, "I wanna help you get rid of 'em," you might think you had stumbled into a certain current politician's big rally instead of a sane theater auditorium. Yes, this 1957 musical is as timely today as it was back then. And as disturbing.
As Doc (Pete Clapsis), owner of the "neutral ground" drugstore where both Jets and Sharks gather, shouts in agony at the tragedy unfolding before him: "When is it going to stop?"