October 30, 1997 in Features

Satisfying Musical Jeriko Entertainment Presents Impressive Production Of ‘West Side Story’

By The Spokesman-Review

“West Side Story” Tuesday night, Oct. 28, Spokane Opera House

The plot of “West Side Story” is practically imprinted on our brains, not just from the movie version and innumerable stage revivals, but also from “Romeo and Juliet,” from which it was inspired.

Which makes it all the more amazing that I found myself wrapped up in the story as if I were seeing it for the first time.

This is a tribute mainly to the musical itself; a little less so to the quality of this touring production.

This Jeriko Entertainment tour sometimes lacks the snap of a high-powered production. On opening night, there were six cast changes, including several of the main characters, which helps explain why the show didn’t always click on all cylinders.

However, this production was ultimately quite satisfying. The sets were often imaginative, if a bit rickety (the fire escape balcony swayed alarmingly). The rumble scene was particularly striking, with the steel girders of the highway looming overhead.

The dancing was impressive, with this young cast flying through the air with controlled abandon. Jerome Robbins’ choreography is almost as important to the story as Leonard Bernstein’s music.

Which leads us to the real strength of this production: the 15-piece orchestra. An orchestra of this size and quality (it travels with the show, as opposed to picking up musicians at each stop) allowed us to hear the score almost as it was meant to be heard. Sure, modern realities still require synthesizers to replace some of the instruments, but this orchestra at least had a real French horn player.

As for the cast, the clear standout was Brent Schindele as Tony, the male lead. Schindele has soap-opera-star good looks and an outstanding voice. His version of “Something’s Coming” was infused with excitement, and his deeply felt “Maria” was the show’s musical highlight.

Vonnie Roemer, filling in as Anita, was terrific, too. She was especially winning in “America,” a vastly enjoyable production number, as she whirls around the stage mocking Rosalia’s affection to the old country.

Samantha Lasch was affecting as Maria, but her voice was a bit too vibrato-heavy for my taste. Her voice did not blend well with Schindele’s on the important duets, such as “Tonight.”

The music by Bernstein, with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, still has the capacity to amaze. Are there three better songs in any musical, back to back, than “Maria,” “Tonight” and “America”?

A certain classical music professor of my acquaintance claims that “West Side Story” contains the best music Bernstein ever wrote. That almost automatically qualifies it as some of the best music ever written for a musical. This production made me appreciate it all the more.

, DataTimes MEMO: “West Side Story” continues through Sunday. Call 325-SEAT for tickets.

“West Side Story” continues through Sunday. Call 325-SEAT for tickets.

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