Theater Review: West Side Story

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Studio Tenn wraps its current season with a snappy, snazzy, polished production of a beloved musical theater classic. (Pictured: Lissa de Guzman as Maria)

Studio Tenn presents:
West Side Story (June 3 – 4; Ages 10 & older)
Schermerhorn Symphony Center
1 Symphony Place, Nashville
615-687-6400 • studiotenn.com
Remaining showtimes: Sat 2 & 7 p.m.
Tickets: $49 – $109

A fantastic musical theater experience awaits your family at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center this weekend with Studio Tenn’s snazzy production of West Side Story.

One of the most beloved musicals of all time, West Side Story opened on Broadway in 1957 with a book by Arthur Laurents, choreography by Jerome Robbins, music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim — fun fact: West Side Story was Sondheim’s Broadway debut! Nominated for six Tony Awards, it won two for Best Choreography and Best Scenic Design.

Laurents drew inspiration from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet for his coming-of-age story set in New York’s Upper West Side in the 1950s where the drama unfolds between to rival gangs: the white Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks. Things intensify when Tony (one of the Jets) and Maria (the sister of Bernardo, one of the Sharks) fall deeply in love.

Studio Tenn’s lively production includes a sophisticated 19-piece orchestra playing Bernstein’s impeccable score — West Side Story is packed with a bevy of numbers that have become Broadway standards most people recognize like “I Feel Pretty,” “Tonight,” “America,” “Something’s Coming,” “Somewhere” and others. Along with the orchestra, the cast brings these memorable tunes to magnificent life. There’s also a large choir in the loft behind the stage; it doesn’t serve much purpose with the exception of adding an ethereal quality to “Somewhere,” which is a nice stroke.

Studio Tenn’s resident choreographer, Emily Tello Speck, pulls off an amazing feat of reproducing the great Jerome Robbins’ trademark movements for this show (there’s a lot of them, and they aren’t easy!), and the Broadway-caliber dancing by the talented cast (a few members hailing from the Great White Way) add much robust flair to the sizzling show. Broadway-blessed Jennifer Rias (Anita) shines bright in her standout performance of “America,” in Act I. It’s a terrific showcase of singing and dancing all the way around.

Gregory Maheu and Lissa de Guzman play West Side’s central characters, Tony and Maria, respectively. Their chemistry and passion on stage is palpable, pulling the audience into their breaking-the-barriers love. While there’s a really good tonal quality to Maheu’s voice, at times he struggles to stay on pitch during musical numbers; it will serve him well to pull back on such heavy vibrato. Still, he makes a charming Tony.

West Side Story marks de Guzman’s fourth show with Studio Tenn, this being her first starring role. The recent Belmont University graduate (BFA in musical theater) is someone to keep your eye one. Her dynamic performance in West Side Story showcases her stellar skills as an actress and singer. Her powerful yet angelic vocals raised the roof in the Schermerhorn on opening night, and it’s going to be fun to watch this rising star in the Nashville community and beyond. The dedication to her role is obvious; her performing prowess a pure delight to experience.

As always, Director Matt Logan’s costume design adds exquisite color to the show, and his approach to scenic design (with the help of Mitch White) at the Schermerhorn is just enough to set the stage for the drama while keeping the focus on the players.

Studio Tenn’s West Side Story certainly wraps up its ’16/’17 season with a bang, and I for one can’t wait to see what it’s going to do with the opening of its ’17/’18 season, Evita, which kicks off TPAC’s next Broadway Series this fall.

Chad Young is the managing editor and arts/entertainment editor for this publication.

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