The only thing wrong with “West Side Story” at Paper Mill Playhouse is that it ends on June 26. It’s the first time its been done here in 25 years so grab it while you can.
Helmed by Producing Artistic Director Mark Hoebee, the timing couldn’t be better for the theater (just finishing its 78 season) that recently was awarded the Regional Theatre Tony award. It also sent both “Newsies” and “Honeymoon in Vegas” to Broadway and will host the American premiere of “Bodyguard” next season. It’s firing on all cylinders with no end in sight.
A classic Broadway musical, “West Side Story” was innovative and daring when it opened on Broadway in 1959. With music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by Arthur Laurents and choreography by Jerome Robbins, it became an instant classic and remains popular. (Not saying it’s like “Hamilton,” but it certainly was ground-breaking and changed American musical theater.)
Let’s consider … The music is by a guy who had broken ground in the classical music world. The direction and dances were created by a guy who had broken ground in the ballet world (Peter Gennaro was a co-choreographer). Lyrics were by a guy nobody had heard of making his Broadway debut. And the story was by a guy working on his first musical. (The original idea for the story came from Robbins who envisioned a contemporary musical adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet” set on the East Side of Manhattan with a conflict between an Irish Catholic and Jewish families.)
A 20-person orchestra let by Steve Orich is our first step into the world of Paper Mill’s “West Side Story.” Those first few iconic chords — that eerie, reverberating signature sound theater lovers instantly know — makes us smile, melts away tension and bad thoughts and, if you are parking your car makes you stay in it until the prologue is over.
Matt Doyle and Belinda Allyn play the doomed, young lovers to perfection. So does everyone else in the cast, including German Alexander as Bernardo, Natalie Cortez as Anita, Jay Russell as Doc, Mikey Winslow as Riff, Maria Briggs as Anybodys, Parker Slaybaugh as Baby John and Dean Andre De Luna as Chino.
The designers are equally superlative, with scenic design by James Yuma’s, costume design by David C. Woolard, lighting design by Charlie Morrison, Sound Design by Randy Hansen and hair, wig and makeup design by Amanda Miller. Choreography was reproduced by Alex Sanchez.
Here’s the deal: American musical perfection staged by a Tony-winning theater company. What’s not to love? 22,000 subscribers can’t be wrong.
WHAT: “West Side Story”
WHEN: Wednesdays through Sundays through June 26
WHERE: Paper Mill Playhouse, 22 Brookside Drive, Millburn
COST: $32 and up; 973-376-4343; http://www.papermill.org