“West Side Story,” Bernstein and Sondheim’s iconic 1957 adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” is an American classic. The feuding gangs, the songs and even the choreography of the opening number are instantly recognizable. With such a well-known work, audience expectations can be sky-high. The production by the Actors’ Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre falls short of perfection, but is still terrifically fun to watch.
The cast features three UM alumni, including Sarah Amengual, who played Maria on Broadway in the recent revival that reprises her lead role here.
The Actors’ Playhouse’s specialty is big-budget musicals, and “West Side Story” delivers a spectacle. This is a cast of universally first-rate dancers; “The Dance at the Gym” and “The Rumble” were especially impressive displays of these talents. The members of the Jet ensemble also displayed their comedic prowess to great effect with crowd favorite “Gee, Officer Krupke.”
While the dance numbers were fantastic, at times it felt as though the acting was equally choreographed, leading to some wooden performances. Amengual and her counterpart, Tim Quartier (who plays Tony), displayed only flashes of chemistry. This was difficult to ignore in a show centered on their romance. Additionally, performers sometimes fell into the trap of sleepwalking through the familiar score, merely singing the songs rather than acting them and bringing their characters fully to life. While the voices were beautiful, the songs were unsatisfying without life behind them.
A notable exception was Isabelle McCalla, who played the passionate and fiercely loyal Anita. McCalla brought fire to her role and elevated the performance of everyone around her. Theo Lencicki, who played Bernardo, and Amengual were both at their bests when they shared the stage with McCalla. McCalla brought much needed pathos and substance to a show that relied too heavily on flash as a whole. Her penultimate scene delivering a message to the Jets was truly haunting.
As usual, the technical elements at the Miracle Theatre were the most elaborate one can find in Miami outside of the Adrienne Arsht Center. The set, designed by Tim Bennett, successfully evoked New York in the 1950s to a realistic degree while still accommodating for the needs of the production, including space for dancers and major scene transitions. Everything, including costumes, props and lights was meticulously selected for detail. The sound was slightly uneven at times, with some microphone issues, but ultimately did not distract from the production.
While the Actors’ Playhouse’s production doesn’t transcend the beloved movie version, there is still something thrilling about seeing “West Side Story” live. The story comes second to the technical achievements of the dancers and the memorable songs. Whether this is a result to celebrate or to bemoan is debatable. Still, “West Side Story” is an entertaining, exciting evening out for fans looking to see the musical outside of the screen.
If you go:
What: “West Side Story”
Where: Actors’ Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre, 280 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday, through Feb. 21.
COST: $15 student rush tickets (except Saturdays and Sundays), $52-$59 regular price
For more information, call 305-444-9293 or visit actorsplayhouse.org.