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Southern Florida by John Lariviere


West Side Story

Also see John's preview of Cabaret

West Side Story
"Mambo"
Broadway Across America - Ft. Lauderdale, along with Kevin McCollum, James L. Nederlander, Jeffrey Seller, Terry Allen Kramer, Sander Jacobs, Roy Furman/Jill Furman Willis, Robyn Goodman/Walt Grossman, Hal Luftig and Roy Miller present the musical West Side Story at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. Featuring music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and book by Arthur Laurents, the musical's plot is based on William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.

The original Broadway production of West Side Story opened at the Winter Garden Theatre on September 26, 1957. The production ran for 732 performances and received two Tony Awards before touring and then returning to the Winter Garden Theatre in 1960 for another 253 performances. In 1961 the musical was turned into a film starring Natalie Wood and Rita Moreno which earned 10 Academy Awards. A Broadway revival opened on February 14, 1980, at the Minskoff Theatre and closed after 333 performances. A second revival opened on Broadway at the Palace Theatre on March 19, 2009 and closed on January 2, 2011 after 748 performances. The recent revival, which earned a Tony Award for Karen Olivo as Anita, wove Spanish lyrics and dialogue into the English libretto with translations by Lin-Manuel Miranda.

The star of this production of West Side Story is Jerome Robbins' brilliant choreography, faithfully recreated by Joey McKneely and cleanly executed by a gifted cast of dancers. Having dancing inner-city gang members only works because Robbins made their movement genuine manifestations of their emotions, mixed with the structure of technique and the flavor of the style of the period. He translated the passion, tension, fury and joy of the characters into dance. The "Dance at the Gym" is gloriously performed, particularly a Mambo section filled with heat and desire. The "Somewhere" ballet is beautifully danced as well, bringing a sweet respite to the tension of the scenes around it. An unusual take on this scene features tomboy Jett wanna-be Anybodys singing the song. Since the scene is the hope-filled vision of a peaceful future, it works that she or Baby John, as the two youngest gang members, may be the right ones to sing it in the pure-hearted manner in which it is meant.

Supporting leads Joseph J. Simeone as Riff and German Santiago as Bernardo both bring the right edge of attitude and talent to their roles. While Michelle Aravena is fine as Anita, she is a bit bland. She is lacking in the fire and spice that often makes this the role that steals the show (as was done by Tony Award winner Karen Olivo in the 2009 Broadway Revival). Though the few adults in the cast don't get much stage time, Steven De Rosa still manages to find as much humor as possible in a memorable cameo as Glad Hand.

Kyle Harris has a great feel for the character of Tony. He delivers potentially stale lines in a way that is fresh and almost fun. He emphasizes the quality in Tony that personifies the slightly goofy teenager in love. For example, when he utters the line "I love you!" for the first time it is exactly how the line should be blurted out by his character. Tony is a fairly regular, level-headed guy, swept away by adolescent emotions and hormones. As for the hormones—there is a more kissing between Tony and Maria in this production than any I have ever seen before. I don't think we really needed it all. As good as Harris is with acting the role of Tony, he is less successful with the singing. His phrasing in the songs "Something's Coming" and the first half of "Maria" are distracting. He tries to push the tempo by rushing the orchestra, and it just doesn't work. He has a rigid vibrato that makes his jaw move up and down and it wrings the tenderness out of his dying moments in the last scene. It also appeared he sang the movie version of "Maria" which does not have the high B-flat; and he could not be heard at all in the second half of the "Tonight Quintet". It may be that he was suffering from vocal problems on the night attended, but when singing any note E or above, he dislocates his jaw down and to the right while placing the pitch in a neutral, nasal sounding vowel. Though his singing voice is basically pleasant, it is as though the role is just too high for him to sing, and the methods used trying to hit the notes are visually and audibly awkward.

Ali Ewoldt (Maria) has a lovely singing voice, but her acting is very inconsistent. Because of this she leaves room for uncertainty as to what kind of woman her Maria is inside. Some of her moments feel overly staged, and her Puerto Rican accent sounds contrived. Whether it is her acting or the staging of the final scene when Tony is shot, the end of the musical falls suddenly flat emotionally. This scene should be gut-wrenching but it is not, and the quality of rest of the production deserves a strong and poignant ending.

This production of West Side Story will be appearing at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts through February 27, 2011. The Broward Center for the Performing Arts is located in the Riverwalk Arts & Entertainment District at 201 SW Fifth Avenue in Fort Lauderdale, FL. Presentations at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts are sponsored in part by the State of Florida, the Department of State, the Division of Cultural Affairs, the Florida Arts Council, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Support is also contributed by the Broward Performing Arts Foundation, Inc... The Riverwalk Arts & Entertainment Consortium is a cultural partnership between the Performing Arts Center Authority, the Museum of Art | Fort Lauderdale, Florida Grand Opera, Fort Lauderdale Historical Society and The Historic Stranahan House Museum. It is supported by the Broward County Board of County Commissioners as recommended by the Broward Cultural Council and the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention Visitors Bureau. The Broward Center for the Performing Arts houses the Au-Rene Theater, the Amaturo Theatre, and the Abdo New River Room, and has affiliated venues at the Parker Playhouse, the Rose and Alfred Miniaci Performing Arts Center, the Miramar Cultural Center and the newly opened Aventura Arts & Cultural Center. For any of the offerings of the Broward Center for the Performing Arts you may contact them by phone at 954-462-0222 or online at www.browardcenter.org. For more information on this tour visit www.broadwaywestsidestory.com/.

Broadway Across America - Ft. Lauderdale is presented in arrangement with the Florida Theatrical Association, which is a non-profit, civic organization with a volunteer board of trustees established to ensure the continued presentation of quality national touring Broadway productions in the state of Florida. Broadway Across America is dedicated to creating memorable and accessible theatrical experiences for all guests, selling over five million tickets to first rate Broadway shows, family productions and other live theatrical events in over 40 North American cities each year. For more information or to purchase tickets through an authorized agent, please visit www.BroadwayAcrossAmerica.com.

Cast:
The Jets
Action: Drew Foster
Anybodys: Alexandra Frohlinger
A-rab: Ryan Christopher Chotto
Baby John: Grant Gustin
Big Deal: Nathan Keen
Diesel: Kyle Robinson
Graziella: Kristen Paulicelli
Hotsie: Kirstin Tucker
Mugsy: Jessica Swesey
Riff: Joseph J. Simeone
Snowboy: Cary Tedder
Tony: Kyle Harris
Velma: Christie Portera
Zaza: Beth Crandall
The Sharks
Alicia: Alicia Charles
Anita: Michelle Aravena
Bebecita: Lauren Boyd
Bernardo: German Santiago
Bolo: Jeffrey C. Sousa
Chino: Jay Garcia
Consuela: Lori Ann Ferreri
Federico: Tim Hausmann
Fernanda: Kathryn Lin Terza
Inca: Dean Andre de Luna
Maria: Ali Ewoldt
Pepe: Michael Scirrotto
Rosalia: Dea Julien
Tio: Kevin Santos
The Adults
Doc: John O'Creagh
Glad Hand: Stephen DeRosa
Krupke: Mike Boland
Lt. Schrank: Christopher Patrick Mullen

Crew:
Director: David Saint
Musical Director: John O'Neill
Choreography: Recreated by Joey McKneely (original Jerome Robbins)
Scenic Design: James Youmans
Lighting Design: Howell Binkley
Sound Design: Dan Moses Schreier
Costume Design: David C. Woolard


Photo: Joan Marcus


See the current theatre season schedule for southern Florida.

-- John Lariviere



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