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Theatre Review: 'West Side Story' Revitalized By Sacramento's Music Circus

Charr Crail / Music Circus

Justin Matthew Sargent as Tony and Carolann M. Sanita as Maria in West Side Story, produced by Music Circus at the Wells Fargo Pavilion August 4-9, 2015.

Charr Crail / Music Circus

The jazzy pre-Beatles score. The dancers in t-shirts portraying boyish hoodlums whirling across a stage to ballet-like choreography in a street scene recalling New York in a bygone age. Yes, it could only be “West Side Story.”

This show launched a Broadway revolution in the 1950s. Pop culture trends fade, and by the 1970s, “West Side Story” felt increasingly dated, even hokey.

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But now the whirligig of time has turned again. The teenage hoodlums with goofy nicknames look almost like naughty choirboys, at least early on. And the swift, tragic fate of the teenage lovers plays well in any era.

In this production the pit orchestra puts zing into Leonard Bernstein’s famous score. The dance scenes pop with athleticism and energy. And the actors playing the young lovers – Justin Matthew Sargent and Carolann Sanita, who has a classically-trained voice – bring the requisite warmth and intensity to their brief, doomed relationship.

Click to hear an excerpt of Sargent and Sanita singing “Tonight, Tonight."

But the performer most likely to capture your heart is Desireé Davar.  She plays the feisty Puerto Rican beauty Anita with a mix of impressive muscular strength, and an immigrant’s steely determination to succeed – a powerful and attractive blend. And immigration, of course, is now a hot political issue.

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All in all, this is a superior production. And you know what? As “West Side Story” approaches its 60th anniversary, this infectious Music Circus production proves there’s plenty of memorable music and contemporary kick in this show from the Eisenhower Era. 

The Music Circus production of “West Side Story” continues at the Wells Fargo Pavilion in Sacramento through Sunday, August 9th. 

Check out this NPR story about "West Side Story" from 2009.

And check out this "story behind the story."