The Howard – Theater Review “West Side Story” Ivoryton Playhouse

Theater Review by Howard Steven Frydman

Play:                         WEST SIDE STORY
Theater:                   Ivoryton Playhouse
Music & Lyrics:       Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim
Book by:                   Arthur Laurents
Director:                   Todd L. Underwood

In search of a summer adventure? Where will it take you? Suggestions happily provided. Are you in search of culinary sea food delights, maybe a day picking strawberries, relaxing at the beach, a summer movie, what to do? what toooo doooo? Don’t let this summer day flitter by!!
May I then suggest a day at “the theater”? Yes you may you say…
Then I strongly urge you to make a journey to the beautiful town of Ivoryton, in the State of Connecticut. This is one special summer destination I’m inviting you too- Within it’s reaches- bring a picnic basket, hunker down under the town’s gazebo, find the elephant, sit back and just relax on this lazy sunny dragonfly kind of day. And then the pièce de résistance of Ivoryton – a true theatrical gem – for it houses the one and only – The Ivoryton Playhouse. If I had to summarize this theater – I would say it had grace – and “Kate” – Hepburn that is, and even Helen Hayes- the who’s who of Broadway and Hollywood have played these hallowed halls – this my friends is the iconic Ivoryton Playhouse.

Set on a rolling hill, lined with rose bushes, it now beckons you to enter through their theater doors and enjoy one of their live productions. Most currently, we are on our way to Ivoryton to see the landmark musical – “West Side Story”- directed and choreographed by Todd Underwood, musical directed by Mike Morris and starring as our impassioned West Side of NYC “Romeo and Juliet” – Stephen Mir as “Tony” and Mia Pinero as “Maria”.
Yep- “Something’s coming, it may be around the corner, whistling down the river, twitching at the dance—who knows?” I know- and I told ya first- it’s at The Ivoryton!!

Stephen Mir as “Tony” and Mia Pinero as “Maria”.

I am ashamed to admit this, but from all my years of reviewing musicals, I have never ever seen a live performance of “West Side Story”. My only reference, until now is like most, the movie version starring Natalie Wood as Maria and as Tony – Richard Beymer, ( Hollywood trivia- Wood disliked Beymer so much she wanted her then boyfriend, Warren Beatty to play the role, with other suggestions including Tony Curtis, while director Robert Wise’s original choice to play Tony was Elvis Presley.) The 1962 film version was nominated for 11 Academy Awards and won ten including Best Picture. I do recall, for its television debut in 1972, a decade later, NBC placed several warnings during the broadcast, regarding “this was only a movie” lest we all become modern-day juvenile delinquents or erstwhile “Jets and Sharks” and start “rumbles” as we sought out turf wars at our elementary schools!! I think I went to school that week trying to snap my fingers, shirt collar pulled up, and humming “When you are a Jet” and seeking my next musical!

“West Side Story” – a musical about two teenage rival gangs- its origin – Williams Shakespeare’s tragic love story “Romeo and Juliet” transplanted to the inner city of the Upper West Side of NYC- circa 1950’s, the Montagues are the asphalt jungle – “Jets” while the “Capulets” are the recently immigrated Puerto Rican “Sharks”. The musical has a book by Arthur Laurents, with music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, with its conception and amazing choreography by Jerome Robbins. WST- On the horizon, a turf war is brewing between the Jets and Sharks, yet for the time being both gangs are playing it cool- ya know what I mean Daddy O? In the meantime, even love grows in the cement city as Tony, founding member of the Top-Cat “Jets” falls in love with “Maria” whose brother is the leader of the “Sharks”- as he professes his love to her on a fire escape outside her building-( alike Shakespeare’s balcony scene). Yet be forewarned “Something’s Coming”!!! Another bit of trivia – an original concept had the musical focus on conflicts between an Irish Catholic family and a Jewish family living on the East Side of Manhattan – “East Side Story”.

Stephen Mir as “Tony” and Mia Pinero as “Maria”.

Folks what makes this show a “must see” at the Ivoryton – firstly, the musical arrangements – the lights darken and all of a sudden you are immersed in the haunting “West Side Story” overture as you witness the ballet of the “Jets and Sharks” emerge onto the stark inner city set created by a Scenic Designer Daniel Nischan. Secondly, ten snaps of the fingers to choreographer Todd L. Underwood- who brings out the inner essence of Jerome Robbins exhilarating dance moves by the cast – so exciting to watch! As many of you know, I so enjoy leaving musical theater humming at least one song- not a problem here- these songs by Bernstein and Sondheim stirs one soul, hauntingly beautiful – with such now classics including: “Something’s Coming”, “Tonight”, “America”, “I Feel Pretty” and the soulful “Maria”.


Lastly, our two leads- great on stage chemistry, Mia Pinero as Maria- utterly charming- a skilled dancer with amazing vocal talents. As Tony, Stephen Mir, ok at first glance he doesn’t look like a gang-member, in fact none of the cast would instill any fear as you passed them on the streets of Ivoryton, but I digress, Mr. Mir shines whenever he is on stage, and exhibits a commanding presence, a true triple treat of talent – voice, dance and acting. Major kudos to the entire cast and shout out to Max Weinstein- you get the coveted “Howard Noticed You” – good job Max- and I encourage all to see this excellent production. Enjoy!

Mr. Max Weinstein

West Side Story opens at the Ivoryton Playhouse on July 5th  and runs through July 30th, 2017. Performance times are Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2pm. Evening performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30pm, Friday and Saturday at 8pm. Tickets are available by calling the Playhouse box office at 860-767-7318 or by visiting their website at http://www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.

Howard Steven Frydman is General Manager and Executive Director of BATV – Channels 5, 95 & 96 and a member of the CCC. Please feel free to contact Mr. Frydman with your thoughts and ideas at howards2424@gmail.com.

 

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