Saturday’s performance of “West Side Story” gave Orpheum regulars something they haven’t heard in a long time – a full orchestra accompanying a Broadway musical.
Filled with plenty of nuance (and its own drama), Leonard Bernstein’s score popped to life and gave the Sioux City Symphony Orchestra (some 40 strong) and two of the musical’s stars the kind of showcase few ever get.
As Tony and Maria, the lovers from opposing communities, Marc Koeck and Alexis Semevolos owned plenty of chilling moments, hitting the notes of “Tonight,” “Somewhere,” and “One Hand, One Heart” with such precision the action around them became a blur.
The two showed plenty of spirit and heart in their dialogue, too, making their fate even more heartbreaking.
Because the orchestra was on stage with the cast, director Christopher Murrah had to figure out a way to suggest the original’s action without the original’s space. Using platforms (and some highly effective projections by Shawn Boyle), he found a different kind of dimension and depth, specifically for Adam Fleming’s smart choreography.
While a contemporary dance sequence with “Somewhere” was jarring, it popped when a soloist (Cecelia Snow) started the song before handing it off to Koeck and Semevolos. Veering from Jerome Robbins’ original dances, Fleming showed what could be done if directors weren’t so obsessed with treating the musical as a museum piece.
Arthur Laurents’ fresh take on “Romeo and Juliet” – so edgy in 1957 – took on new meaning in light of political debates over immigration. Thanks to Murrah, this “West Side Story” had relevance and some lines that could have been written just yesterday.
Although Christopher Metzger’s costume designs weren’t quite right (the men’s suits were too 2018 for the women’s 1950s dresses), Paige Seber’s lighting design did much to guide us through the quick romance.
“America,” usually a showstopper for the actress playing Anita, was just OK in the production, largely because Lauren Csete wasn’t able to own the space she was given to make her case. She brought the fire but didn’t fan the flames.
The heat came, instead, during a taunting scene and Semevolos’ address to those who prompted the best night of her life to become her worst.
A fascinating experiment, this “West Side Story” did what so many of music director Ryan Haskins’ season enders do – push the orchestra, educate the audience and suggest what might be.
By anyone’s standard, it was a bona fide hit – a moving production that made something so familiar seem oh-so-new.