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'West Side' touches the heart


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POSTED: Thursday, October 01, 2009

Kim Anderson wasn't the only person who sounded close to tears in the final moments of her performance as Maria in Paliku Theatre's production of “;West Side Story”; on Sunday. Muffled sniffling could be heard in the audience as well. Others were probably struggling silently to keep tears from falling.

That's as it should be.

A good production of the ever-popular Broadway classic always evokes strong emotions. The power of the story is as much a part of the show's enduring appeal as its superb score, compelling lyrics and iconic choreography. With Anderson hitting the high notes and touching the heart as Maria, local theater icon Ron “;Mr. Bright”; Bright directing, and his theater ohana holding key posts on both sides of the footlights, Paliku's latest big-scale musical should be one of the year's blockbusters.

Bright's talented cast meets other standard benchmarks useful in appraising any production of the show:

» Does “;America”; sizzle with bright colors, ironic wit and eye-catching choreography? Yes, with Tori Anguay (Anita) and Brittany Browning (Rosalia) as the focal points.

» Does “;Gee, Officer Krupke”; deliver its cynical message amid the hijinks and “;nu yawk”; accents? Mr. Bright's 10 young Jets did so well on Sunday that they earned a round of spontaneous applause.

» Does the choreography—in this case Marcelo Pacleb's take on the definitive work of Jerome Robbins—convey the feeling of dance-as-combat in the fight scenes and gym scene alike? Absolutely!

Chris Villasenor (Riff) is an agile acrobatic bundle of energy as the Jets' leader; he seemed a bit tentative on the opening lines of “;Jet Song”; but amped it up from there on out.

Tori Anguay (Anita) has the looks, the moves and stage presence for that plum role. She also has the voice and the acting skills to make “;A Boy Like That”; one of the production's dramatic highlights. Her work with the Jets in the almost-rape scene is convincing as well.

Zare Anguay (Bernardo), Tori's leading man (and brother) dances, struts and taunts Kyle McCraw (Tony) with sullen grace and athletic machismo.

Theo Voudouris, a fedora pulled low on his forehead, brings impressive shadings of menace and calculated violence to the role of the manipulative racist Lt. Schrank.

Garrett Taketa (Diesel) and Kalei Sandarananda (Baby John) stand out among the Jets with Ashley Layfield (Anybodys) appealing as the tomboy Jet-wannabe. Hayley Hughes (Velma) and Katrina Johnson (Graziella) are eye-catching dancers in their two key numbers; Dani Yamamoto (Consuelo) balances comic skills with sex appeal as the bleached-blonde Sharks girl.

The weak link, no way around it, is McCraw. He's good at playing Tony as an introspective dreamer or innocent romantic, but never comes across as a guy who founded and led a street gang. And while McCraw competently portrayed a guy possessed by the intoxicating distraction of new love, he was less successful at hitting and holding some of the high notes he was reaching for. Nor did he always tap the emotions of the lyrics he was singing.