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Thursday, December 02, 2010


National Tour of West Side Story/credit: Joan Marcus
Arguably, there is nothing that exudes the essence of musical theatre more than West Side Story. From Lenny's (Bernstein) gorgeous score, Sondheim's unparalleled lyrics (though he sometimes begs to differ...see Finishing the Hat) to Jerry's (Robbins) most amazing choreography and of course Arthur (Laurents) book (and in the case of the Broadway revival, also can claim the title of director).  Really, there is nothing more perfect West Side Story.

Just about everyone knows the storyline and mere mention of the title will elicit some kind of strong response (and really, who didn't grow up with at least knowing about the film?)  Two years ago when the show was revived on Broadway (for the first time since the 1980s production starring Debbie Allen), book-writer Arthur Laurents took the helm and directed the show starring Matt Cavenaugh  (Tony), Josefina Scaglione (Maria) and Karen Olivo (who won her first Tony Award for her role as Anita).  In this production, for the first time ever,  West Side Story  incorporated the use of Spanish language sung/spoken by the Sharks (Lin-Manuel Miranda, of In the Heights fame provided translations) because as Laurents said, thought it wasn't his idea (it was his late partner Tom Hatcher's), he thought the Jets and Sharks should be on equal footing in terms of their turf wars and "it'd be great to think of a way to equalize the two, why not have the Sharks speak Spanish?" This somewhat controversial move got a lot of attention though ultimately much of the Spanish was edited down from the original creation for this Broadway revival.

The national tour of West Side Story (based on the recent Broadway revival) opened at the historic Pantages Theatre in Hollywood for a five-week engagement (through January 2, 2011).  Based on Laurents' masterful direction (executed by David Saint) the production includes the use of the Spanish language sung by the members of the Sharks.  It should be noted that this semi-bilingual approach (I think) works incredibly well.  Though I didn't understand half of what was being said (when in Spanish of course), it didn't really matter because I completely understood its purpose in the show.  In moments of anger and frustration, are the characters (who might not speak perfect English) really going to start singing perfect English vs their native Spanish (or a combination of the two)?

National Tour of West Side Story/credit: Joan Marcus
What worked better than having a semi-bilingual production was the original choreography (by Robbins) beautifully recreated by Joey McKneely for the revival/tour.  Typically, my love for music and the written word far supersedes my interest in dance, but having an opportunity to see Robbins' original choreography reproduced was simply amazing and certainly a highlight of the performance.  It was during these ensemble dance numbers (i.e., "Dance at the Gym," "Rumble") that the cast really shone.  Not to be outdone, the "Gee, Officer Krupke" scene was another example of the strength of the ensemble performers (Action and the Jets); it got some of the biggest applause of the evening.

While the ensemble numbers were some of the most enjoyable, it was the scenes between Tony and Maria that I actually found myself having a harder time believing.  There was somewhat of a lack of chemistry between the two performers, Ali Ewoldt (Maria) and Kyle Harris (Tony) - individually, yet both were more convincing and stronger in their scenes apart than together. 
(l-r) Ali Ewoldt, Kyle Harris/credit:Joan Marcus
It isn't everyday that a full-scale production of a classic show like West Side Story rolls into town - overall, it is a  must-see for fans of the show young and young-at-heart.  West Side Story runs through January 2 Tuesdays-Fridays at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood.  For tickets and holiday schedule information: Broadway L.A.


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