One of the most anticipated offerings of this season at Broadway LA was the touring production of West Side Story. The original production opened at the Winter Garden Theatre on September 26th, 1957, and went on to play 732 performances and win six Tony Awards including Best Musical and Best Choreography. At the time, and since, it has been declared one of the greatest American musicals, and one that changed the course of American musical theatre through its innovative music and choreography. Leonard Bernstein wrote the music, Stephen Sondheim (in his Broadway debut) the lyrics, and Arthur Laurents the book, and dit was directed, conceived, and choreographed by Jerome Robbins. An award-winning movie of West Side Story was released in 1961 directed by Robbins and Robert Wise. The revival was originally directed by the book writer, Arthur Laurents, and here recreated for the tour by David Saint; Tony Award nominee Joey McKneely reproduced Robbins’ choreography.
Laurents took liberties with the script, doing a few rewrites and changing dialogue around. He replaced the character of Anybodys with an eight-year-old boy who then sang “Somewhere.” His biggest innovation was to use actual Spanish dialogue in some scenes and some songs. His changes were controversial but the show recouped its investment in 30 weeks. Robbins’ choreography, which has always been considered sacrosanct (as stipulated by Robbins estate), was altered and reshuffled. Although on seeing it you might think that it is the same, I am told by dancers who have done the show that it is not. I noticed that too, in that some of the moves and musical staging, principally in Anita’s “America” and in the dance at the gym, which in the original was a war but here is reduced to a lively dance-off between two couples.
The cast is good, though I couldn’t really keep the Jets’ individual identities straight; they seem a bit homogeneous. Thank goodness director Saint chose to reinstate Anybodys as a girl who wanted into the gang. She is very well done by Alexandra Frohlinger, who gets to sing “Somewhere.” Tony is played by pretty Kyle Harris as a very happy ex-gang member. I liked his singing voice for its nice overtones. Ali Ewoldt plays a feisty Maria and has a lovely voice. Alicia Charles is terrific as Anita despite losing her big dance number. I also liked Christopher Patrick Mulled as Lt. Schrock and Stephen DeRosa as Gladhand.
West Side Story will play at the Pantages Theatre until Jan 2nd. Catch it; it’s a rare treat.