There’s a Place For Us – a review of “West Side Story”

By Michael Buzzelli

The Shakespearean tragedy of “Romeo and Juliet” is reimagined for the modern age (or, rather, a less distant past) and set to song in the iconic musical, “West Side Story, where the Jets and the Sharks are the Montagues and Capulets. The language isn’t Elizabethan, but it is archaic. You might have to decipher a little 50s street slang, but the underlying message is clear; love is love.

Two gangs on the West Side compete for the same territory in 1950s New York, the Sharks, led by Bernardo (Giuseppe Bausilio), and the Jets, led by Riff (Davis Wayne).

A Jet, Tony (Spencer LaRue), just met a girl named Maria (Sabina Collazo), and suddenly the name doesn’t mean the same to him. Maria is Bernardo’s sister, and everything is about to change for the Jets and the Sharks.

“West Side Story” premiered in Washington, D.C. in 1957, and, as mentioned, was a retelling of “Romeo and Juliet,” but there might be spoilers ahead.

The Jets get ready to rumble. Photo Credit: Matt Polk


Maria (Sabina Collazo) feels pretty after meeting an Italian kid. Photo Credit: Matt Polk

Collazo’s voice is fantastic, operatic.  It’s easy to fall in love with this Maria.

LaRue is a likable leading man. As the gang’s lone goody-two-shoes, he doesn’t get any of the funny lines or angry diatribes, but he is solid. He projects kindness and politeness, characteristics the gang lacks.

Wayne’s Riff charismatic. It’s easy to believe that a gang would follow him into the gates of hell.

Action may very well be “psychologically disturbed (distoorbed),” because Harry Francis sure plays him that way. The man is seething with rage in every scene, except when he is dancing. He dances elegantly, beautifully.

Anita is one of the show’s best characters and Adriana Negron performs a marvelous rendition of the character.  She aptly puts Rosalia (Joy Del Valle) in her place during “America.” Negron gets to show a gamut of emotions. Her scene in Doc’s drug store is powerful. It’s the scene where the Jets lose sympathy.

Side note: Del Valle sings “Somewhere” as a voiceover off stage, and its a shame she’s not on stage during her solo because she deserves the applause.

Ken Bolden’s Doc is the lone voice of reason in a horrific landscape of hate and perpetual violence. When Doc isn’t scurrying about his store like a mother hen, he pops out some droll one-liners, expertly delivered by Bolden.

Dixie Sherwood appears in one scene, but steals said scene as the over-the-top social worker, Gladhand.

Allan Snyder’s Lieutenant Schrank is menacing, but his sidekick, Officer Krupke (J. Alex Noble), is comic relief.

Leo Meyers scenic design, enhanced by video designer Brad Peterson and lighting designer Paul Miller,  elevate the show to Broadway standards. The sets are magnificent.

While this production has great acting and singing, Baayork Lee’s choreography enlivens “West Side Story.” The choreographer mimics Jerome Robbins in all the best ways, with swift, graceful forms in colorful costumes by Robert Fletcher. While it would be unusual to see pirouettes and arabesques in a street fight, it is stunning on stage.

While the language is dated, “West Side Story” still resonates. It’s a story star-crossed lovers whose misadventures are caused by racism, fear and paranoia, and, unfortunately, we still have too much of that.


“West Side Story” runs from June 11 to 16 at the Benedum, 237 Seventh Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222, For more information, click here.

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