One of the greatest love stories of all time came to life on Saturday night as the Windsor Symphony Orchestra presented the concert version of the 1957 musical West Side Story as their 2018/19 season opener.
While it wasn’t an all-out theatrical show one would initially expect from West Side Story, the stripped-down musical concert was stunning in this format, especially when played by a live orchestra. It really brought the music to life and also gave the horns a chance to shine and get their jazz on.
This performance was superb in every way. It honored the beloved music of the original, but was also able to present the story in a new and interesting way. Eighteen very capable vocalists, as well as students from the University of Windsor School of Creative Arts and St. Clair College Music Theatre Performance Program performed around the symphony in the ultimate battle of New York’s Upper West Side.
West Side Story is an update on Shakespeare’s classic Romeo and Juliet, set in New York City in the mid-1950s. Instead of the Capulet and Montague families, we’re presented with the bullish Jets and the Puerto-Rican immigrant Sharks – clashing street gangs. Tony (Matt Chittick) wants to distance himself from the Jets, but his best friend Riff (Adam Iannetta) consistently tries to pull him back in. Things come to a head when Tony sees Maria (Meher Pavri) and they fall in love. The trouble is, Maria’s brother Bernardo (Nathanael Judah) is the leader of the Sharks.
The moment Iannetta and the Jets sang Jet Song, it was obvious this was going to be one of the highlights of the WSO season. And it only got better from then on in. Chittick has an incredibly powerful voice that can be both tender and wild. He blended beautifully with Pavri’s Maria, especially in their duets like Tonight and One Hand, One Heart. Pavri’s delicious take on I Feel Pretty was one of the most gorgeous moments in the show. The comedic tune Gee, Officer Krupke was a highlight of the show, performed with flair by Nicholas Borg, Michael Roy and the Jets. They, of course, ended the tune with the famous line “Gee, Officer Krupke – Krup you!” that brought out the cheers.
With the theatrical version, one can easily tend to lose the glorious music that lies behind the lyrics, but this concert version really pops that music to the foreground, almost stripping it naked for all to hear. This format, which they used in last year’s Marriage of Figaro as well, is a greatly enjoyable and unique concert-style that has just enough theatrical moments to move the story along, but really brings the music to its core.
The WSO was on point, as always, handling this challenging score with ease. I actually never realized how complex and rhythmically challenging the score of this show actually was until it was presented as a concert. Conductor Robert Franz brought us through a thoughtfully prepared performance and introduced us to the musical mastery of Leonard Bernstein.
It was a well-deserved standing ovation to open the new WSO season and it’s set the bar high for a diverse lineup that includes several symphonies, essential classics, the music of Harry Potter, a few Mozart selections and the music of Bowie and Prince. Up next, the WSO welcomes internationally acclaimed pianist Spencer Myer who will perform Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A on Saturday, Sept. 29. Tickets are available online.
Robert Franz, Conductor
Katherine Kaszas, Stage Director
Meher Pavri, Maria
Matt Chittick, Tony
Adam lannetta, Riff
Stephanie O’Leary, Anita
Charlotte Knight, Rosalia
Nathanael Judah, Big Deal/Diesel/ Bernardo
Nicholas Borg, Action
Fynn Cuthbert, Baby John
Michael Roy, Snow Boy
Benjamin Doncom, A-Rab
Sarah Bradley, Francisca/America
Sydney Nicholson, America
Aurora McClennan, Consuelo/America
Alexander Titei, Officer Krupke/Shark
Jacob Brubaker, Jet
Jawon Mapp, Jet
Tristan Giroux, Jet
Patrick Forbes, Jet
University of Windsor School of Creative Arts students, Jets
St. Clair College Music Theatre Performance students, chorus