|Maria (Michelle Edwards) and Tony (Dustin Hanna)|
The ever-ebullient Steve Dini welcomed me and PHS alumnae Melanie Beck to the PAC last night and regaled me with the history behind this challenging production. "After 42nd Street, we only took about a month off and then jumped into production meetings for this show. We also [in similar fashion to the dance intensives before last year's show] held vocal sessions to prepare the students for this very difficult score." Their preparation paid off by creating a strong sound across the cast, as well as some stand-out leads and soloists.
|Riff (Brandon Cruz) and the Jets|
In the role of Maria, Michelle Edwards brought an endearing simplicity and approachable honesty to a role that can often become maudlin and disconnected. Her work was bolstered by her impressive vocal skill, opening up easily into higher territory for her solo work and even higher for chord-dressing in large numbers with the entire company.
While the book relies on its Romeo and Juliet inspired lovers, this production also sources its energy from several supporting roles which quickly became audience favorites during the performance. Anita (Erica Quiñonez) was a delight with her quick-wit and strong physicality, playing very well against a sassy Rosalia (Lauren Germaine) during the classic, "America". Also enjoyable was the hot-headed Action (Nick Vincent), the manipulative and easy-to-hate Bernardo (Cedric Wolk), and the almost midwestern-humored School Teacher (Deets Marchello).
|The Jet's Girls|
A review of this show cannot possibly be complete without mentioning the incredible work of the nearly all-student orchestra under the direction of Christopher McCoy. The score for this show is hard enough for the on-stage performers without giving them strong musical backing, so it is even more impressive that the pit was so tight through the many dynamic, time signature and key changes. Special kudos go to Natalie Kanga and Natalie Tom for their crisp and strong trumpet work, the percussionists (both kit and pit) for their strong musicianship, as well as the whole orchestra for tackling the score with accurate instrumentation (eight strings, ten woodwinds, four brass, six piece rhythm section) instead of using unnatural sounding synthesizers.
Watching a show like this is much like watching a tight-rope walker on a high-wire. We all desperately hope for the catharsis of seeing the walker make it safely across, but the experience is definitely heightened by the degree of difficulty of the act itself. It would be an entirely different performance if the wire were only a foot off of the ground. So, to see a public non-magnet high school attempt arguably one of the most difficult musicals of all time and to do it so capably is a testament to the skill, passion, and dedication of everyone involved. They have captured their unicorn, and you cannot help but wonder what they will undertake next year.
Pioneer High School - West Side Story
1290 Blossom Hill Road, San Jose, CA 95118
Through March 31
Tickets are available at Pioneerhigh.org or at the door.