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West Side Story – Non-Equity National Tour

Book by Arthur Laurentswest side story11logo West Side Story

Music by Leonard Bernstein

Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

Directed by David Saint

Choreographed by Joey McKneely

Musical Direction by J. Michael Duff

Non-Equity National Tour 2011

At the Oriental Theatre, Chicago

Classic Broadway icon gets mixed results

In July 2011, Broadway in Chicago brought the non-Equity National tour of West Side Story to Chicago. This current production only stays for a week here. It is a serviceable, almost worthy production. If only the producers would cast stronger Equity players in the principal roles this tour would make its mark.

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Director David Saint and choreographer Joey McKneely’s cast was long on dance acumen, energy and  spirit. From the opening “Prologue,” we realize that West Side Story is a polished dance show that artfully blends Jerome Robbins’ original choreography into a spirited high-energy dance spectacular. We see innovative jumps, twirls and synchronized movement with hints of classic ballet, modern jazz with some Latino movement and fight twists added. These dances bring Leonard Bernstein’s pulsating jazz/Latino music to life. This cast, while reduced by 1/3, still knocks out the intricate Robbins’ choreography  with thrilling abandonment.

We meet both gangs – The Jets and the Puerto Rican The Sharks as each act out their rivalry through dance in numbers like “Dance at the Gym,  “Cool” and “America.” But as amazing as the dancers were, I was totally disappointed with the voices of all the principal characters. In his introductory song, “Something’s Coming” Addison Reid Coe’ Tony lack of vocal depth presence. Coe –is a tall handsome lad who looks the part as Polish.

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Mary Joanna Grisso had a nice but shallow voice  and her duets with Coe’ Tony fell below the standard in “Tonight” and “One Hand, One Heart.” Stronger Equity players with powerful  voices would nail Sondheim’s legendary tunes with more bravado Coe and Grisso were adequate but not special.

My other problem was the baffling translation of several of the songs and long stretches of dialogue from English into Spanish. Why? This has not been needed as the show never seemed to need it before since 1957, so why now? It added nothing and it hurt several of the songs such as “America,” “I Feel Pretty,” and the haunting “A Boy Like That”/”I have a Love.” The heavy Spanish  accents rendered some of the lyrics intelligible. My generation knows the lyrics so no problem with us but several younger audience members seemed confused by all the Spanish Too bad since Sondehim’s satiric, hard-edge lyrics got muddled with a needless translation into Spanish.

With all that being said, let me state that this Non-Equity National Tour is still a worthy and sometimes moving theatrical event. Bernstein’s music and the Robbins’ inspired dances are so exquisite that this production is a terrific show to introduce teens  to the magic of classical Broadway musicals. West Side Story certainly captures the angry voice of urban youths in the 1950′s. Much of that angst still resonates today. But in this high energy production – dance and a heart-throbbing score dominate. And that is all that is needed to make WST worth seeing


Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: June 11 20, 2013

For more info checkout the West Side Story page at

2 thoughts on “West Side Story – Non-Equity National Tour

  • No mention of the fact that another actress sang the majority of Maria’s songs? What was up with that. I have seen better high school productions than this.

  • I do not believe that someone else sang Maria’s songs–how do you know that?

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