Chicago Theatre Review
West Side Story
West Side Story
The Most Beautiful Sound I Ever Heard…
Back in the 1950’s when newspapers were just beginning to cover tragic stories of teenage gangs and turf wars, a new show would evolve from these events that would forever change the American Musical. Noteworthy, too, was that this new theatrical form resulted from a collaboration between artistic geniuses Arthur Laurents (book), Leonard Bernstein (score), Jerome Robbins (direction and choreography) and a new kid on the Broadway block named Stephen Sondheim (lyrics).
Loosely based upon Shakespeare’s tragedy, “Romeo and Juliet,” the show was considered controversial. It was dark and edgy, characters fought and died and it didn’t have the traditional happy ending found in musical comedies of the day. Moreover, the show was vocally challenging and featured much more demanding choreography than most musicals. It was, however, an almost instant hit and won the 1958 Tony Awards for sets and choreography. Since that year “West Side Story” has toured, become a staple of educational, regional and summer stock theatres, was made into a popular Oscar-winning film and was revived by Laurents in 2009 with a few changes to the original script. Most importantly was Lin-Manuel Miranda’s (“In the Heights”) Spanish translations of the lyrics for the songs sung by the Puerto Rican characters, making the production truly multi-cultural and more authentic.
This re-imagined version finally reaches Chicago (for only one week) in Troika’s very respectable non-Equity production. An awe-inspiring evening of theatre featuring a talented cast of astounding singers with fine acting skills and unbelievable dancing prowess gives the audience their money’s worth. Fans who know this show by heart won’t be disappointed and will find a few new, surprises in the staging of “Officer Krupke,” “I Feel Pretty,” “America” and “Somewhere.” And for those lucky patrons who are discovering this American classic for the first time, it’s truly worthy of the standing ovation it received opening night.
First and foremost is Jerome Robbins‘ dazzling choreography, recreated here by Joey McKneely and danced with passion and precision. The “Prologue,” “Dance at the Gym,” “America,” “The Rumble” and the dream ballet, “Somewhere” are breathtaking. Combinations of classical ballet, jazz, Latin ballroom and other styles make each number more exciting than the next. Then there’s Bernstein’s gorgeous music, filled with lush, romantic ballads, such as the beautiful “Maria,” “Tonight” and “One Hand, One Heart.” The score also features a few novelty numbers of equal opulence, like “I Feel Pretty,” “America” and “Gee, Officer Krupke.” There are also the 1950’s jazz-infused dance numbers found in the “Prologue,” “Cool” and “Dance at the Gym.” Audiences will find it difficult to resist tapping their feet or swooning over such a score, which is why the recordings of the original production, the film and the 2009 revival have been award-winning best-sellers; and why these songs can be heard sung by opera, pop and cabaret artists all over the world.
The entire cast is uniformly excellent with distinguished performances by Michelle Alves as Anita and MaryJoanna Grisso as Maria. Both actresses offer superstar vocal power. Ms. Alves‘ Anita is the requisite Latin spitfire, but it’s her tirelessly energetic dancing ability that really wows the audience. Addison Reid Coe’s Tony is All American good-looking and vocally commanding, although sometimes his high notes sound strained. Guy Mandia, Jr.’s Action is, true to his character’s name, constantly in motion and filled with the appropriate anger, as is Theo Lencicki’s gang leader, Riff. Along with Andres Acosta’s handsome Bernardo and Dan Higgins’ macho Diesel, all of these actors stand out amidst an ensemble of talented dancers.
This splendid production, here for one week only, deserves a look, if only to hear Bernstein’s beautiful score played by a full orchestra and to see some up-and-coming young professionals acting, singing and dancing their hearts out.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Additional information regarding this and other Chicago area productions is available atwww.theatreinchicago.com