The Norwalk Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Jonathan Yates and in conjunction with Stamford’s New Paradigm Theater produced an outstanding Symphonic Concert version of West Side Story last Saturday. This was just the music, without the choreography, costumes, props or much of the dialog, which gave you a chance to fully appreciate Bernstein’s complex and beautiful score.
Bernstein wrote the orchestra score for 31 players, including 4 percussion players: making it a score you are unlikely to ever hear in local, or even professional productions. And the Norwalk Symphony did better, with the rich sound of 48 professional musicians, including those 4 percussion players.
The New Paradigm Theater recruited and rehearsed the singers and worked out their minimal blocking, staged by Claire Kelly and with music direction by Steve Musitano, and overall artistic direction by Kristin Huffman.
The performance started with the prolog, which is normally a dance number and the first Jets-Sharks conflict, but in this staging, we just heard the music itself. This continued throughout with all of the dance music played in full for us to appreciate.
Some thirty-four singers made up the collection of leads and chorus, giving a full sound to all of Bernstein’s writing. Outstanding in this performance was Evy Ortiz as Maria, who even without much dialog managed to portray the new immigrant who falls in love with Tony. Her voice was clear and always easily heard and understood, with a lovely, soprano sound. Bronson Norris Murphy played Tony with aplomb and his clear tenor voice nailed the (optional) high C in Maria, something few Tonys manage to do as well. Naysh Fox as Riff delivered a compelling version of “Cool,” and Paola Hernandez was a comically entertaining Anita.
The entire ensemble carried off the complex Tonight Quintet with ease, providing a great musical (almost) climax to Act I just before the Rumble dance number that finishes the act. Act I ends with Tony accidentally killing Bernardo, but in this staging you never see that, and it would have been nice if he had collapsed on stage to make that point. And, at the end Chino shoots Tony, but we don’t see that either, Tony just stops singing and leaves the stage.
Normally the solo “There’s a Place for Us” is given to a solo soprano in the orchestra or upstage outside the action, but in this production two very talented children, Nathan Horne and Scarlet Tanzer sung it as a charming duet.
The orchestra had its own fun, providing the finger snapping in the Prolog and in the Dance at the Gym, and all rising and shouting “Mambo” when that section began.
Overall this was a thoroughly professional production of very high quality that brought the audience to its feet at the end, and presumably recruiting more audience for future concerts, which include the family concert of Peter and the Wolf on March 17, and Beethoven’s 9th (with the Mendelssohn Choir) on May 18.
This performance was miked, with Tony, Maria and Riff using body mikes, and the remainder of the singers gathered around four floor mikes. It might have been better balanced without them, and these singers had the chops for it.
All in all, a delightful evening.