Sea foam

By CAROLYN CLAY  |  June 27, 2007

Up the road at Barrington Stage Company, a superb production of WEST SIDE STORY (through July 14) reminds us that it doesn’t get much better than Romeo and Juliet scored by Leonard Bernstein and removed to Manhattan streets that, even at their Eisenhower-era meanest, sizzle in a wash of hot-blooded innocence. BSC begins its first full season in its renovated Pittsfield theater with this operatic production helmed by artistic director Julianne Boyd, with musical direction by Darren R. Cohen, who conducts a pit orchestra of 11. The old-fashioned proscenium house is perfect for the 1957 gem of a show, and Luke Hegel-Cantarella provides a grubby, jagged jumble of soiled brick, broken boards, corrugated tin, and chain-link amid which to house it. Moreover, the production — for which Joshua Bergasse embellishes the muscular and balletic Jerome Robbins choreography — captures both the tragic momentum and the musical ardor of the piece. Is there a more soaring sequence in American musical theater than the one that slides from “Maria” into “Tonight”? And is there a more sharply lyricized novelty number than “Gee, Officer Krupke,” the apprentice work of a 27-year-old Stephen Sondheim?

Here all the Jets and Sharks have distinct personalities, but they dance like a collective dream, whether jutting their way through “Dance at the Gym” or executing the leaps and lifts of the bare-stage-set “Somewhere” ballet. At the heart of the production are Chris Peluso’s dark-browed Tony, his fine voice slipping effortlessly into falsetto, and Julie Craig’s childlike Maria, a pure soul with purer pipes. These two make love-at-first-sight seem something holy — despite being surrounded by nose-thumbing, hormone-gushing agnostics who make the rumble under the highway harrowing and render palpable the subsequent regret of youngsters pumped up on prejudice they didn’t invent. I heard several audience members comment on the way out that they planned to rent the movie. It may be a letdown.

HERRINGBONE, which recently opened the Williamstown Theatre Festival, looks like the winner of a reality-show challenge to write the world’s weirdest musical — in this case a one-man song-and-dance show about a Depression-era eight-year-old possessed by the spirit of a malevolent tap-dancing dwarf. The 1982 work, with book by Tom Cone, music by Skip Kennon, and lyrics by Ellen Fitzhugh, has as its narrator a man named for a suit fabric who — in the course of amiably laying out his grotesque life story — plays 10 more parts, frantically hoofing his way through several jumpy musical tours de force. As if he didn’t have enough to do in WTF artistic director Roger Rees’s spirited yet casual staging, he also puts his shoulder to a small platform bearing a pianist and pushes it around the playing space. Indeed, it was a collision of performer and piano that on opening weekend sent Tony winner B.D. Wong — more widely known as Dr. George Huang on Law & Order: SVU — to the hospital for 30 stitches. In addition to bleeding for his art, Wong proved he has talents undreamed of by fans of the TV show.

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