REVIEW: National tour of ‘West Side Story’ maintains spectacle of classic stage musical

“West Side Story” is everything that a great musical should be. It overflows with energy and tension, packs a serious emotional punch, boasts a gorgeous score including some of the most classic songs in musical theater history, and is filled with dance numbers that could knock the wind out of you.

When the national touring production of “West Side Story” came to Penn State’s Eisenhower Auditorium Tuesday, the performance did everything and more required to uphold the legacy that comes along with this iconic musical.

“West Side Story” tells the tale of star-crossed lovers, Tony, a former member of the American street gang the Jets; and Maria, whose brother, Bernardo, is the leader of the Puerto Rican gang the Sharks. The story plays out against the backdrop 1950s New York.

Before the performance began, the tone was set thanks to the curtain, which looked like a wall in an alleyway. Scrawled across the wall were the names of the two rival street gangs, the Jets and the Sharks. That graffiti-covered wall offered an urban authenticity that was sustained throughout the entirety of the show.

Many of the cast members are making their national tour debut with this tour of “West Side Story,” including Jarrad Biron Green, who plays the central male character of Tony. In fact, the only critique that could be made against any of the actors would have to be aimed at Michael Spencer Smith in the role of Sharks leader Bernardo. Although Smith shined in his dancing and strength as the character, his believability was lessened by the fact that he was the only member of the Sharks gang who had no semblance of a Puerto Rican accent. The lack of accent seemed even more out of place considering about 10 percent of the script, including the lyrics, were spoken or sung in Spanish.

Gabriela Albo was sensational as the wide-eyed ingénue Maria, her melodic soprano voice lending itself beautifully to Leonard Bernstein’s famous songs. Her acting shined as well; her portrayal of Maria showcased the youth and childlike spirit of the character, making the tragic ending of her love affair with Tony that much more heartbreaking.

Green was convincing as the ill-fated Tony, his strong tenor voice the perfect instrument to showcase Tony’s most famous songs “Maria” and “Something’s Coming.”

Michelle Alves has to be commended on her role of Anita. She exuded the perfect amount of fire needed for the character and was nearly flawless in her emotional execution.

The dancing, which is pretty much expected to be show-stopping in a production of “West Side Story,” was indeed spectacular. The performers communicated onstage with their movement as if dance was their own language.

Also worth mentioning was the brilliant scenic design by James Youman and lighting design by Howell Binkley, both of which played a big part in getting the right tone for the show.

Ultimately, this production of “West Side Story” showcased a gritty, well-performed, touching, and modern version of the timeless musical. It was everything that “West Side Story” should be, and anyone who goes to see this national tour will not be disappointed.