A few months ago, several friends and I went to a special screening of the film version of West Side Story. While I recall loving the Academy Award winning film as a kid, seeing it as an adult was an entirely different experience. I ranted to my friends that despite the fantastic Leonard Bernstein score and the wonderful Jerome Robbins choreography, the film is long and full of ridiculous overacting, mostly from George Chakiris and Rita Moreno, both of whom nabbed undeserved Oscars for their performances.
When I voiced my criticisms, my friends looked at me like I was crazy. I wish I had someone like Terri Mowrey there with me to back me up. While it's clear from her one-woman show West Side Terri that she loves the film, Mowrey also sees its flaws and affectionately spoofs them to hilarious effect.
In West Side Terri, created by Mowrey, Christopher Basile (who also serves as director), and Alexander Price, Mowrey acts out every role, scene, and song of the iconic film musical in the comfort of her apartment in a way that both pays reverence to the movie and spoofs, parodies, and skewers it. She condenses the overlong 2 and a half hour film into a brisk 75 minutes, interrupting the action occasionally to interject her own thoughts on the characters and content or to share some interesting trivia about the film.
As she interacts with the audience as herself, Mowrey is downright lovable. You just want to hug her, and she's so quirky and almost spastic that she resembles comediennes like Gilda Radner, Tracy Ulman, and Zooey Deschanel. But her performance really comes alive when she embodies the characters of West Side Story. Every character is delightfully exaggerated. Maria becomes a Disney Princess, Officer Krupke becomes Frankenstein's Monster, and Tony becomes...wait for it...Keanu Reeves. If you can't laugh at Keanu Reeves singing "Maria" or "Tonight," I'm guessing you have no soul. Seeing Mowrey switch between characters at breakneck speed is a treat as well.
While the show is highly enjoyable, Mowrey's few attempts to add emotional content to her show don't completely resonate. She's able to do drama in a believable and realistic way and so her desire to add a few dramatic interludes where she pontificates on racism make sense on paper, but as an audience member you want her to get back to the comedic storytelling which she excels at so well. Thankfully, the emotional interludes don't last terribly long.
Though some moments certainly work more than others, West Side Terri is an amusing and enjoyable show carried by a skilled performer. If Ms. Mowrey is reading, I hope you've seen the film version of Les Miserables; I'd love to see you rake Russell Crowe through your comedic coals.
Run time: 75 minutes with no intermission
WEST SIDE TERRI plays the Salvage Vanguard Theater at 2803 Manor Road now thru Thursday, January 31st. Performances are Thursday 1/24 at 6pm, Saturday 1/26 at 3:30pm, and Thursday 1/31 at 7:45pm
Tickets are $10. For tickets and information, please visit http://www.fronterafest.org/site/index_right.html