As Maria, [Lauren Maria] Medina gives a command performance that is worth the price of admission
West Side Story premiered on Broadway in 1957. Based on a concept by director/choreographer Jerome Robbins, the musical is a modernized retelling of William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. Rather than a feud between the Capulet and Montague families, the musical focuses on a turf battle between two New York street gangs.
The Jets are a gang of Caucasian hoodlums. Their counterparts, the Sharks, are Puerto Rican teens. From their ranks, a Caucasian boy falls for one of the Puerto Rican girls and all hell breaks loose.
Regarded as one of the greatest musicals in history, West Side Story features music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and book by Arthur Laurents.
The musical was adapted to film in 1961. It won a staggering 10 Academy Awards including Best Picture. A reimagined remake by director Stephen Spielberg was released in 2021. Generally well received, it has been nominated for seven Academy Awards.
Under the skillful direction of Victor Malana Maog, Marriott Theatre has launched a spectacular new production of West Side Story that is sure to delight Broadway purists and theater fans in general. The entire cast is packed with talent.
As the star-crossed lovers Tony and Maria, Jake David Smith and Lauren Maria Medina lead the cast.
Smith has a beautiful voice. His performance of Something’s Coming in the first act is the best rendition of the song I have ever heard.
The character of Tony was one of the founders of the Jets who has a reputation as a head smasher. My one minor complaint about Smith’s performance is that this element of danger in his personality is never really present.
As Maria, Medina is a revelation. Her acting is exquisite, and she has a strong voice. She is 100% believable as a young girl falling in love for the first time. Medina gives a command performance that is worth the price of admission.
As the leader of the Jets, Drew Redington’s Riff is the strongest performance of the new Marriott mounting. Redington delivers his dialog in rapid fire bursts, often eliminating punctuation. I’ve never seen this approach to the character before, but it works. There is a great deal of anger to his character, but Redington still finds lighter elements to explore. He is a phenomenal dancer and singer as well.
Gary Cooper plays Bernardo – the leader of the Sharks and Maria’s older brother. Cooper strikes an imposing figure and is an excellent singer and dancer.
Bernardo’s girlfriend Anita is one of the most challenging roles in musical theater. Vanessa Aurora Sierra offers a very well-rounded interpretation of the character. In the first act, Sierra explores the comedic subtext of the script. In Act 2, Sierra puts on a dramatic tour de force performance. The duet A Boy Like That between Sierra and Medina is one of the best numbers in the production, second only to the ensemble Tonight Quintet near the end of Act 1.
Among the supporting cast, Jonathan Warner stands out as Action. The role requires an almost bipolar range of emotion and Warner delivers with gusto.
Among the Sharks, Sophia Marie Guerrero is captivating as Consuelo and delivers a beautiful rendition of Somewhere during the dream ballet in which Tony and Maria fantasize about a world free of hate.
Choreography by Alex Sanchez is everything one would expect from one of Chicago’s best theater companies. Sanchez pays tribute to the original Jerome Robbins Broadway choreography while adding his own flourishes. The Dance at the Gym and the dream ballet stand out as particularly well done. How the character of Anybodys (Marisa Fee) is used in the dream ballet is brilliant.
West Side Story’s Bernstein score is filled with emotion. Music director Ryan T. Nelson pushes the cast and orchestra to do justice to the amazing songs and succeeds in winning fashion.
Set design by Jeffrey D. Kmlec, costume design by Amanda Vander Byl, and lighting design by Jesse Klug all add to the brilliance of this Marriott production.
There are only a small handful of adult characters in the cast. Matt DeCaro’s Doc, Bret Tuomi’s dual roles of Gland Hand and Officer Krupke, and Lance Baker’s Lt. Shrank are all very well done.
With it’s new mounting of West Side Story, Marriott Theatre proves once again to be among the elite best theaters in Chicago. Don’t miss this stellar musical theater accomplishment.