Saturday, August 22, 2009

We Have to Take This to the Streets!

So I'd read reviews of the new West Side Story production, a few months back, but any description of the show doesn't do justice to the overwhelming enjoyment of seeing a high-end live staging of it. Dan and I got rush lottery tickets: Dan's name was called for the pair of them; I don't know what the odds were, like one in three maybe -- Dan says he has good luck with this sort of thing, which he deserves, as a fan of musicals who isn't in New York all that often. So we had seats in the front row, right up by the orchestra pit, and we were both just having the time of our lives beginning to end.

The big innovation in the production was putting some of the book and a couple of second-act songs into Spanish, but that's not a huge change, and otherwise the setup was straightforward and ungimmicky, which is of course perfect. (Incidentally, "I Feel Pretty" and "A Boy Like That" suffer a little for losing their crisp Sondheimian English, but the overall effect is a good one.) They kept or at least adapted much of the Jerome Robbins choreography, I think, or at any rate it looks classic and true to the original; the gangs don't do that swaggering snapping thing, but instead do their snapping rooted in place, looking very tense. It works -- I mean, the gangs are only going to look so hard-boiled, but they pull it off. Put it this way: I wasn't reminded of Tobias's dancing street gang from Arrested Development. And you're well aware of how many things remind me of something from Arrested Development.

The dance at the gym was unbelievably fabulous, the whole dancing corps wearing sexed-up 50s outfits and throwing all this violent energy out during the mambo.

Most memorable by a long shot cast-wise are Josefina Scaglione, who plays Maria with an uncanny, almost diaphonous presence, and Karen Olivo, whose Anita is basically the burning center of every scene she appears in (she won a Tony for it this year, too). Bernardo is played by a guy named George Akram, who does a great job creating some gravity for a character who's more essential to the plot than the dialogue or music. The Jet side of the cast is maybe less notable; John Arthur Greene is fine as Riff but I wanted more charisma, or something; and if there's a weak link it's Matt Cavenaugh as Tony, who only goes so far dramatically, and moreover sings too often in that unfortunate constricted-sounding musical theater style. "Gee Officer Krupke" was the right kind of firecracker set-piece, though, as was "Cool." Easy, Action!

But the main thrust of it all is remembering that you know and love West Side Story and then watching that procession of unbelievably good numbers unfold up on stage, with a tight full orchestra underneath it. An excellent, excellent way to spend an evening.

Dan has already written about this (along with the Adams concert I'm about to recap, too): pay attention to his account of the delicate, crucial moment onstage at the end of "One Hand, One Heart," because I was too distracted by the chord progressions in the strings to be paying attention to it.


Blogger Dan B. said...

Sondheim was, somewhat famously at least in the musical theater circle, dissatisfied with the lyrics of "I Feel Pretty," which he considered to be indicative of an immigrant who suddenly starts talking like Noel Coward. I recall an interview with Lin-Manuel Miranda, where he said that Sondheim's only instruction was to observe the rhyme scheme.

I was pretty taken by the inserted Spanish line, perfectly rhyming, in Somewhere.

8/24/2009 12:10 PM  
Blogger Pete said...

I don't reckon "A Boy Like That" could get much wonkier than it already was.

8/24/2009 1:39 PM  

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