By TERRY TEACHOUT
Feb. 19, 2015 5:37 p.m. ET
West Side Story
Riverside Theatre, 3250 Riverside Park Dr.,
Vero Beach, Fla. ($35-$85), 772-231-6990, Closes March 15
Vero Beach, Fla.
What “Hamilton” is to 2015, “West Side Story” was to 1957, a musical that was as much a part of its historical moment as a tabloid headline. So it was a near-miraculous coincidence that I happened to see a Florida revival of Leonard Bernstein’s Broadway opera about a Manhattan gang war the night after “Hamilton” opened in New York. The two shows have much in common—among other things, they’re both parables of the problem of assimilation—and Riverside Theatre’s well-sung and unusually well-danced production of “West Side Story,” directed by DJ Salisbury, is a solid, meritorious piece of work.
Riverside Theatre bills itself as “America’s largest small town professional theater.” If you’re wondering why a town of 15,220 should be home to a 675-seat musical-comedy theater, the answer is that Vero Beach is an affluent coastal community whose well-heeled residents want to see shows like the ones they left behind in New York. This one qualifies: According to the program, Alex Sanchez’s choreography is “based on the original by Jerome Robbins,” and it incorporates all of the master’s signature moves to soaring effect. The sets and costumes are conventional but pleasing, and the orchestra is as good as a 10-piece band can hope to be (the original Broadway production had 28 players in the pit).
As for the show itself, Arthur Laurents’s book, with its clunky made-up teenage slang, hasn’t aged well, but Bernstein’s score is as potent as ever, a timeless testament to the power of song to stir the heart—and that’s what is missing from “Hamilton.” Listening to Anthony Festa sing the part of Tony with fetching warmth on Wednesday, I caught myself thinking that for all its unlimited rhythmic flair, “Hamilton” would be an even better show if it contained so much as one number that was half as unselfconsciously tuneful as “Maria.”
Pansy the Poodle Editor Note: DJ Salisbury is co-creator of and now helming “Poodleful.”