Make us your home page

Review: St. Pete Opera's 'West Side Story' both shines, stumbles

ST. PETERSBURG — Leonard Bernstein said it himself. West Side Story is really hard to cast.

"The characters had to be able not only to sing but dance and act and be taken for teenagers." Bernstein once said. "Some were wonderful singers but couldn't dance very well, or vice versa ... and if they could do both, they couldn't act."

His assessment holds true today. The St. Petersburg Opera Company has tackled Bernstein's enduring work about social ills and love, filling it with a slate of stunning opera singers.

That's appropriate in one sense. West Side Story, based on Romeo and Juliet, is as close to an opera as Broadway gets. It's full of complex musical structure and vocal requirements.

But it's still a Broadway musical, one with warring gangs and street slang, and it needs to have grit, electricity, tightness. Though the opera's production directed by Bill Leavengood will satisfy fans who come to hear famous tunes, and the live orchestra led by maestro Mark Sforzini is exceedingly tight, there are problems.

Chief among them: Tony. The reformed leader of the Jets is played here by Gilad Paz, a classically trained tenor with a silken, powerful voice. He has been Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet, Léandre in Le Médecin malgré lui, the Duke of Mantua in Rigoletto, and so on.

He has that two-octave operatic range Tony requires, has no problem whatsoever hitting a high B-flat for eight counts on Maria. Surely Paz shines when it comes to classical music.

But maybe Tony just isn't his role. We have to believe Tony could have been in a 1950s New York gang. Not for one second did I believe this Tony capable of knifing anyone, not even when he was knifing someone.

He plods on and off stage with a serious case of Dead Arms. He spends much of the show dressed in anachronistic dad jeans and Dockers, like he just got off from his IT job at Morgan Stanley. It's very jarring, especially against the rest of the cast dressed in period-appropriate togs and Converse.

That stuff would feel less weighty if we got the tingles when he's with his lady love. But Tony's romantic chemistry with Maria is just lacking. It's really a knife in the soul of the show, which on the whole seems to slog on longer than it should.

Too bad. Maria is cast much better in Stefanie Izzo, who has both a crystal soprano and the acting spunk to make us believe she'd betray her family for love. Her dramatic chops really evolve in the second act.

The Jets are spirited and offer a burst of energy with madcap Gee, Officer Krupke. The gang is led by Riff, played by the weightless and leaping Brett Thiele, last seen as the lead in Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark on Broadway.

The leads here are mostly imported from New York, but the cast is rounded out with recognizable Tampa Bay staples including Matthew McGee and Christopher Rutherford. They're both sharp in their roles as grownup foils to the fighting teens.

But there's one actor who makes everyone else on stage look sleepy.

Kaitlyn Costello plays Anita, on fire to the tips of her toes. Not only is her mezzo-soprano on point, she is clearly a trained dancer. More importantly, she never lets her energy flag, moving like the sexy, conflicted Anita should move even when exiting into the dark wings. If only the rest of the casting was so spot-on.

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at or (727) 893-8716. Follow @stephhayes.

.if you go

The St. Petersburg Opera Company production of West Side Story runs through Sunday at the Palladium Theater, 253 Fifth Ave. N, St. Petersburg. $21.50-$64.50. (727) 823-2040.

Review: St. Pete Opera's 'West Side Story' both shines, stumbles 06/30/14 [Last modified: Monday, June 30, 2014 5:46pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Taco and Beer Fiesta set for St. Pete, followed by the Ooze and Booze Fest

    Food & Dining

    The Gulf to Bay Food Truck association recently announced a trio of events for mobile comfort food lovers.

    The big a-- nachos are tortilla chips topped with pulled pork, chili, cheese sauce, salsa, chopped jalenpenos, feta cheese and cilantro sour cream from Maggie on the Move. [Gulf to Bay Food Truck Association]
  2. Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson can't keep 'The Hitman's Bodyguard' on-target


    The Hitman's Bodyguard is an assault tank on semi-automatic pilot, spraying jokes and bullets with only the ammo consistently hitting its targets. The irresistible teaming of Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson might be even funnier if they missed once in a while.

    Samuel L. Jackson plays a master assassin testifying against a dictator, and Ryan Reynolds plays a bodyguard tasked with keeping him alive.
  3. 8 things to do in Tampa Bay on Aug. 17


    Clearwater Threshers: vs. St. Lucie Mets: For "Taps and Tacos" night, 16 local craft beers on tap near the Tijuana Flats kiosk, located on the concourse along the third-base line. 7 p.m., Spectrum Field, 601 N Old Coachman Road, Clearwater. $6-$10. (727) 467-4457.

    St. Lucie Mets outfielder Tim Tebow during the Mets at Threshers game at Spectrum Field on Monday, August 14, 2017, in Clearwater, Fla. Monday night was Tim Tebow's 30th Birthday Party celebration.
  4. What's new in theaters: 'The Hitman's Bodyguard,' 'Logan Lucky,' 'Wind River'




    Loving the trailer for The Hitman's Bodyguard (R) poking fun at quotes from reviewers prone to phrases like "It's a roller coaster ride!" for better chances to see their names in TV ads.

    Salma Hayek and Samuel L. Jackson in The Hitman’s Bodyguard.
  5. Howard Jones and the legend of Jed


    Howard Jones is all over the place. After headlining the Retro Futura in America this summer he will return back to the West and participate in 80s In The Sand. How did Howard get so good at bouncing right back? Well he had some practice in the '80s with the song Bounce Right Back.