Regional Reviews: New Jersey
West Side Story Arrives at NJPAC in Fine Fettle
Also see Bob's review of Trad
While the basics of the classic Jerome Robbins-Leonard Bernstein-Stephen Sondheim-Arthur Laurents musical are intact, Laurents has made innumerable alterations in the dialogue and attitudes of the youthful gang members and their girlfriends in order to make them and the musical that they inhabit more realistic and sexually explicit. This makes this updated Romeo and Juliet more accessible to younger audiences, provides a bit of a jolt for more seasoned West Side Story viewers, and removes most of those moments of risibility resulting from the puritanical constraints of mid-twentieth century America placed upon our entertainments. These changes are more fundamental than the much commented upon translation (particularly lovely for the lyric of "I Feel Pretty") into Spanish of some of the lyrics and dialogue by Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Evy Ortiz is a particularly radiant and engaging Maria with a strong coloratura soprano. Her singing thrillingly blends a youthful exuberant sound with smooth operatic notes. Ross Lekites' Tony is solidly sung and acted, and his chemistry with Ortiz ratchets up our involvement with them. Michelle Aravena shines in each of the elements that combine to make Anita one of the richest roles in the American musical theatre. Sexy and funny, Aravena sings and dances up a storm in "America" and, ultimately, delivers a powerfully believable and heartbreakingly nuanced interpretation of Anita's emotional evolutional in the scene in which she seeks to deliver a message to Tony in Doc's shop.
Joey McKneely has done solidly professional work in recreating and adapting Jerome Robbins' classic choreography for his strong, talented and hard working corps of dancers. Particularly impressive is "The Rumble," which appears to have acquired some new moves, and the transformingly lyrical "Somewhere," which is stunningly lit in coup de théâtre fashion by David Saint. It is sung (well and to solid dramaturgic effect) by the momentarily transformed Anybodys (Alexandra Frohlinger) onstage. Drew Foster (Riff), German Santiago (Bernardo) and the entire ensemble kick in with lively, compelling performances.
All of the other elements of this touring productionscenery, lighting, costumes, the orchestra, sound systemmake major contributions to this first class, revitalized West Side Story
West Side Story continues performances through May 6, 2012 at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) Prudential Hall, One Center Street, Newark, NJ 07102; Box Office: 888-466-5722; online: www.njpac.org. Upcoming Tour Dates: Toronto, Canada, Center for the Arts, May 8 - June 3; Durham, North Carolina, Durham PAC, June 5 - June 10, 2012. For more information on the tour, visit www.broadwaywestsidestory.com/index.html.
West Side Story based on a conception of Jerome Robbins; book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim; directed by David Saint