The Muse Machine enters its 30th year with a musically appealing production of “Tonight: The Songs of ‘West Side Story’ & More,” the arts education organization’s 15th annual summer concert which opened Wednesday, August 10 at the Victoria Theatre.
Featuring 200 performers, a conglomeration of Muse students and alumni, “Tonight” – helmed by producer Douglas Merk, choreographer Lula Elzy, music director/conductor Timothy Alt and music director/choir master Ann Snyder – infuses a refreshing range of musical styles and vocal/orchestral arrangements into its predominate salute to Leonard Bernstein’s beloved 1957 work, the first Muse student musical. Stephen Sondheim, who made his Broadway debut writing his masterful lyrics for “West Side Story” at the age of 27, is also recognized with nods to his groundbreaking “Company” (1970), sophisticated “A Little Night Music” (1973) and short-lived “Bounce” (2003). George Gershwin’s iconic “Rhapsody in Blue” (1924), which Bernstein conducted and performed with the New York Philharmonic in 1959, is in the mix as well. Peculiarly, selections from Bernstein’s “Candide,” “On the Town” and “Wonderful Town” are absent.
The breezy concert is not without morsels of awkward musicality and stagecraft, but there are significant highlights nonetheless. Jamard Richardson’s “One Hand, One Heart,” Madeline Shelton’s “Send in the Clowns,” Amber Knicole’s “Somewhere” and Abby Brown and Micah Trout’s absolutely lovely “Tonight” duet are wonderfully poignant and heartfelt. Kaja Burke-Williams, Dan Baughn, Monique Cooper and Odette Gutierrez del Arroyo firmly convey the drama within “A Boy Like That.” Noah Berry, Andrew Koslow and Carly Snyder join Brown, Trout and cast for a strong rendition of the “Tonight Quintet.” On a lighter note, Berry, Koslow and Snyder join Cameron Elliott and Khyrsten Mikel for an impressively smooth a capella version of “Something’s Coming.” Jacob Brown, David Sherman and Ryan Vallo comically fuel a non-traditional “I Feel Pretty.” The Young Ensemble has fun with “Gee, Officer Krupke.”
Additionally, the Stivers Jazz Orchestra skillfully steps into the spotlight with “Cool” and “Dance at the Gym.” Stivers string bassist Erica Harvey winningly accents the country-tinged “Jet Song” featuring Shelbi August. Elzy’s choreography, created in the style of Jerome Robbins, particularly sparkles in “Dance at the Gym” as well as “Prologue” and the spirited “America” finale, splendidly led with character-driven zest by Mary Kate O’Neill.
The evening’s centerpiece unquestionably arises from guest artist/renowned pianist Leon Bates’ fantastic, passionate delivery of “Rhapsody in Blue” alongside the Muse orchestra. Bates effortlessly tackles the exhilaratingly evocative composition with playful nuance, lilting beauty and confident gusto, attributes that earned him and the orchestra a well-deserved standing ovation. Bernstein and Gershwin would be proud.
Tonight: The Songs of West Side Story & More continues today at 8 p.m. at the Victoria Theatre, 138 N. Main St. Tickets are $20-$52. The concert is performed in 100 minutes without intermission. For tickets or more information, call Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630 or visit www.ticketcenterstage.com