Music by Leonard Bernstein
Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Directed by David Saint
Choreographed by Joey McKneely
Musical Direction by Patrick Vaccariello
National Tour 2011
At the Palace Theatre, Chicago
Zesty Bernstein score sounds and dances up a storm
It has been decades since I’ve seen a Equity National Tour of West Side Story but I have seen several worthy regional theatre productions of WST including a terrific Marriott Theatre remounting a few years ago. So it was with great anticipation that I welcomed the 2011 National Tour of the classic 1957 Broadway gem – West Side Story to the Palace Theatre. 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” Kyle Harris’ Tony lack of vocal range showed up. Harris – a curly black-haired man looks more Puerto Rican than Polish – a real problem since Tony is the Polish.
Ali Ewoldt’s Maria had a weak voice (Where is Marni Nixon when we need her?) also and her duets with Harris’ Tony fell below the standard in “Tonight” and “One Hand, One Heart.” You would think the producers would find actors who have the proper look and vocal ability to land Sondheim’s legendary tunes! These two did not.
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 ” I Feel Pretty” and the haunting “A Boy Like That”/”I have a Love.” My generation knows the lyrics so no problem with us but several younger audience members told me that they were lost as to what those songs really meant. 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 National Tour is still a most worthy, even breathtaking 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 sometimes.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: July 20, 2011
At the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph, Chicago, tickets $32 – $95, www.broadwayinchicago.com, Tuesdays at 7:30 pm, Wednesdays ar 2 & 7:30 pm, Thursdays & Fridays at 7:30 pm, Saturdays at 2 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm, running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes with intermission, through August 14, 2011