Last I heard, there were just 300 tickets left for the final week of Davidson Community Players' production of West Side Story up on Exit 30 off I-77. And there are numerous reasons to reserve one for yourself before they're gone. Fundamentally, for those of you wary of smalltown community fare, the DCP production at Duke Family Performance Hall fulfills a major tenet of the Hippocratic Oath. It does no harm whatsoever to the Leonard Bernstein-Arthur Laurents-Stephen Sondheim gang-up on teen gangs, one of the crown jewels of American musical theater.
Anna Sartin's set, Barbara Wesselman's costumes, and Ron Chisholm's choreography all cleave devoutly to '50s mean street tradition, and the sound engineering on the Davidson College campus scores better grades than that other Sondheim piece now running here at CP. Intrepid theatergoers who saw Queen City Theatre Company's deliciously decadent Dangerous will likely remember Salvador Garcia and Steven Buchanan, but director Melissa Ohlman-Roberge hasn't otherwise drained the Charlotte talent pool.
As the leader of the Jets gang -- we're a decade earlier than Broadway Joe Namath and his Jets -- Buchanan is rock solid with a punkish edge. But it's hard to take your eyes off the malignity of Garcia as Sharks chieftain Bernardo. He not only rules the Sharks; he rules the entire stage. And this time, unlike his stint as the professional male stripper in Theatre Charlotte's Full Monty, he gets to prove he can dance.
But Garcia's dominance ends when Maria, Bernardo's kid sister, encounters her lapsed Jet at the fateful high school hop. Steven James isn't quite the teen dreamboat you might wish for in Tony, a little short on the confidence and ardor that should go with his capable vocals, but you can't help feeling that he's a miracle to the amazing Grace Kidd who sings Maria.
Kidd is the 16-year-old daughter of Jim Kidd (local leads in Fiddler on the Roof, A Funny Thing Happened, and Kiss Me, Kate in recent years), her voice teacher is 4-time CL Best Musical Actress Deborah Rhodes, and she more than lives up to her pedigree. Credit for this stunning debut also goes to Ohlman-Roberge, who keeps Kidd just as giddy, ardent, and beguiling when she's just listening as she is when she's acting or singing.
I've seen West Side Story more than a couple of times, onstage and onscreen, so surprise isn't a factor. But up in Davidson when Maria said to Tony, "I do not know how to joke like that -- and now I think I never will," the accent and feeling were so authentic that I almost gasped. Her scenes after the rumble and Chino's final revenge sustain that excellence.
Peel your eyes off Kidd and you'll espy another auspicious debut by Abigail Pagán as Bernardo's bereaved Anita. Before tragedy hits, Pagán lavishes plenty of Latin fire on the spicy lyrics of "America" -- with plenty of heat left over when the Statesville import lifts her skirts and digs into the dance.
If you've read this far without picking up the phone and reserving a ticket, your chances for snagging one have diminished.