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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

West Side Story Rumbles Anew at the Paramount

Also see David's review of Spring Awakening

The Dreamer Examines His Pillow
Michelle Aravena and German Santiago
With the foundation of its supremely melodic Leonard Bernstein score, sporadically soaring early Stephen Sondheim lyrics, and an Arthur Laurents' book which was tweaked by the playwright himself before the show's 2009 Broadway revival, the national tour of West Side Story finally landed in Seattle this week. Though not quite faultless, and lacking in many, if not most, of the Spanish translations found in the early months of the Broadway revival run (a flawed if noble experiment), the show still sizzles, and touched the opening night audience in ways that few of its fifties counterparts still can.

David Saint, former Seattle Rep Associate Artistic director, took on directing the tour after Laurents passed last year, and the book scenes (which Laurents nipped and tucked, successfully excising many of his quaint pseudo-slang references) play out freshly and with humor and pathos where necessary. Choreographer Joey McKneely exuberantly reproduces the always cherishable Jerome Robbins and Peter Gennaro dance numbers, including a standout "Dance at the Gym" and "America," and a judiciously edited "Somewhere" ballet, which excises the always redundant second half which simply replayed moments of the climactic act one "Rumble." The tour cast is of a generally high caliber, seemingly more youthful and authentic than one may have seen in West Side Story in the past, as they play out the authors' mid-twentieth century take on Romeo and Juliet re-set on the streets of New York City. With rival gangs, the Jets and Sharks supplanting the Montagues and Capulets.

Ross Lekites as Tony really impressed me with his powerhouse beauty of a voice, and an unforced effortless acting style. His "Something's Coming" tingles with excitement and a little danger, and his "Maria" flat out beats any past performance of it I have heard in this show. Lekites has real chemistry with limpid-voiced Evy Ortiz, whose Maria plays out stronger in the show's lighter moments than at its tragic climax. Michelle Aravena sizzles as Anita in her acting and fiery dance moves. Drew Foster brings a diminutive young Jimmy Cagney flavor to the role of Tony's best pal Riff, though German Santiago is a rather indistinct Bernardo.

The Jets gang largely has the chance to shine more than the Sharks what with "Officer Krupke" and "Cool" to sink their chops into. Most noteworthy among them are Jon Drake's edgy Action and Alexandra Frohlinger's misfit Anybodys, notable additionally for her warmly sung "Somewhere," far more effective than the song being sung by an offstage voice as in the original. As Tony's warm-hearted employer Doc, John O'Creagh gives the role some real backbone, while Stephen DeRosa, as Gladhand, the hopelessly square official at the dance at the gym, offers a great comic cameo—"abstinence" is his watch cry—in a role expanded for the revival.

Conductor John O' Neill and a full orchestra of mostly Seattle musicians do well by Bernstein's score, in both song and dance passages. James Youmans' scenic design is most striking when it's under the freeway for the rumble. The seemingly full house at the Paramount greeted the show warmly.

Bernstein, Laurents and Sondheim gave us a timeless show back in 1957, and it is a credit that the electrical charge West Side Story set off back then still fills the air today, and tonight.

West Side Story runs through January 15, 2012, at the Paramount Theatre in downtown Seattle at 9th & Pine. For tickets or information visit them online at www.stgpresents.org. For more information on the tour, visit broadwaywestsidestory.com/.


Photo: Joan Marcus



- David Edward Hughes



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