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Broadway By the Bay’s ‘West Side Story’ an exciting rumble

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Samantha Rose Cardenas and Nikita Burshteyn play Maria and Tony in Broadway By the Bay’s sturdy “West Side Story.” (Courtesy Mark Kitaoka and Tracy Martin)

“West Side Story” is a classic — so much so that five productions are now playing or will open around the Bay Area before summer’s end. Happily, the version at Broadway By the Bay presents the best the musical has to offer in a jazzy, first-rate production.

The main reason this particular “Story” works is the people in charge understand and respect it, but are also willing to infuse it with the currency, vitality and imagination of a new work.

In her farewell production, artistic director Amanda Folena has created a magnificent capstone to her four-year legacy with the company. Her scenes flow seamlessly, and the high-quality performances she elicits from her actors is so engrossing that the first notes of familiar songs in the lustrous Bernstein-Sondheim score are almost a surprise when they appear.

Folena’s work is beautifully abetted by Sean Kana’s musical direction and Nicole Helfer’s choreography. Kana coaxes the best out of players worthy of the term orchestra. The result is an energized, fluid and riveting treat for the ears. Helfer pays the right kind of props to iconic Jerome Robbins moments and then blends them beautifully with her own passionate and rigorous steps. The opening number, “Dance at the Gym” and “Gee, Officer Krupke” are worth the price of admission.

But there’s more! An excellent cast led by outstanding performances from a Maria (Samantha Rose Cardenas) and a Tony (Nikita Burshteyn) who are not only wonderful, powerful singers to serve the score but, blessedly, fine actors as well. The perfectly matched pair find humor in the balcony scene that most productions miss, and their utterly convincing faith in their love makes the inevitable pathos all the more heartbreaking.

Other standout roles among the exceptionally solid company of 40 players include Jets leader Riff (a commanding Zachary Padlo); top Shark Bernardo (the always wonderful Alex Rodriguez); his girlfriend Anita (a fiery Taylor Iman Jones); Anybodys (wonderfully versatile Jessica Rose Maxey); some Jets (Mike Birr, Patrick Brewer, Danila Burshteyn), some Sharks (Javi Harnley, Neal Pascua), their girls (Camille Edralin, Mary Kalita) and some grown-ups (Wes Chick, Ray D’Ambrosio).

If there is a fly in this sweet ointment it is the “Somewhere” ballet. Always dreamily dissonant from the rest of the musical, here it seems just beyond the reach of the previously excellent musicians and performers. The rest of the evening, however, is cool. Real cool.

West Side Story
Presented by Broadway By the Bay
Where: Fox Theatre, 2215 Broadway, Redwood City
When: 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; closes Aug 30
Tickets: $47 to $69
Contact: (650) 579-5565, www. broadwaybythebay.org

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