West Side Story
Also see Fred's review of Zero Hour
In 1949, Jerome Robbins and Leonard Bernstein came together and began to plan a show based upon Romeo and Juliet which would address racial prejudice. Originally thought to transpire on New York City's East Side, that project never actualized. Instead, director Robbins and composer Bernstein ushered in lyricist Stephen Sondheim and bookwriter Arthur Laurents and the foursome opened West Side Story on Broadway in 1957. A few years back, Arthur Laurents, then 91, directed the classic show when it was brought to life, anew, at Manhattan's Palace Theater. The touring contingent is directed by David Saint.
Tony (Kyle Harris) is trying to keep a few paces away from his former street gang, the Jets. The Sharks, of Puerto Rican ancestry, and the Jets get into an immediate fight at the beginning of the production. Tony goes to a high school dance and is smitten with Maria (Ali Ewoldt), whose brother Bernardo (German Santiago) is a Shark. Tony and Maria sing of their mutual affection in "Tonight." His two solos during the first act are the recognizable "Something's Coming" and that most romantic "Maria." Maria's closest friend is Anita (Michelle Aravena). Anita and other young women sing about life for Puerto Rican females in "America." The first act concludes as Tony kills Bernardo.
The second and shorter portion of the play first features Maria and others with "I Feel Pretty." The animated, catchy "Gee, Officer Krupke," led by Action (Drew Foster), and others follows. Really, though, it's all about Anita advising Maria to stay clear of Tony; and what follows ...
Laurents, who has since passed away, opened the Broadway show just two years ago with the intent of making the dialogue more authentic by adding lyrics in Spanish. He sought a gritty West Side. What followed was a quite a to-do from those who did not want anyone to alter words that were familiar and even beloved. Lin-Manuel Miranda assisted with the new lyrics and, evidently, some have been retained and others not for the touring rendition. The news is this: the Spanish is genuine and adds to texture and tone of the musical. Let it be and let the commotion cease.
On the other hand, Harris, as Tony, uses far too extensive vibrato as his voice frequently quivers. "There's a place for us" and for everything, but the effect does not work on many of the melodies. Ewoldt's Maria is just fine but not memorable. The best voice on stage belongs to Alexandra Frohlinger who, as Anybodys, is sweet and lovely during her segment of "Somewhere."
Jerome Robbins' excellent choreography benefits from modifications provided by Joey McKneely. Those performers in the neighborhood, under the highway, at the gym are stirring. The production numbers are clear and clean winners since these well-disciplined and rehearsed actors move with enthusiasm and zest for the moment.
Those sitting at a distance from the stage will get a true perspective of West Side Story, which includes its heartbeat and the brilliance of those who collaborated, during the 1950s, to make it happen. Still, it is probably difficult to sense and experience the emotion behind some tunes from afar. One would need to see the actors' facial features to fully appreciate chemistry between individuals.
West Side Story continues at The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford through May 29th. For tickets, call (860) 987-5900 or visit www.bushnell.org.
- Fred Sokol