Thursday, January 8, 2009

West Side Story revival=muy bueno

Performance: West Side Story
Theater: National Theater (1321 Pennsylvania Ave NW)
Metro: Metro Center (blue/orange/red) Directions here.
Genre: Classic Musical
Cost: from $25 with student ID (must be picked up in person) for select performances -- These may be sold out already as there are only a limited number.
Dates: Through January 15
Rating: 3.5/5 Starving Artists

Last night Lady AWesome, some friends, and I went to see the 50th anniversary revival of West Side Story now playing it's pre-Broadway engagement at the National Theater. You can read more about this historic re-imagining of the play in Jay's guest post that I put up a few weeks ago, but I will share a few reflections of the show here.

All told, I thoroughly enjoyed this production. It had a lot of the elements of the original that it needed to have to feel authentic. Most importantly, they reused most of the original choreography by Jerome Robbins. This ballet inspired dancing was as much a joy to watch today as I imagine it was in 1957. I agree with the WashPost that the introduction of Spanish really made the show much more authentic. I don't speak a lick of Spanish (please don't judge me, I took it in middle school and promptly forgot every word except "ocho" and "mucho gusto") but even with that, or especially with that, the introduction of Spanish really helped me to feel the divide between the Sharks and the Jets. It created a distinct feeling of two worlds. And Lady Awesome's roommate points out that "I feel pretty" sounds much less cheesy in Spanish, though that may also be because I don't speak it. Apparently they were going to have opera style translation across the top of the stage but they cut it in previews because it was distracting and unnecessary. Even as a non Spanish speaker, I didn't miss it. I enjoyed this change from the original.

The performances are mostly good. Josefina Scaglione and Karen Olivo stand out as an adorable Maria and a powerful Anita (respectively). However the male leads impress less. Matt Cavenaugh leaves a lot to be desired as Tony, the Romeo of the story. I really wanted him to blow me away and he just didn't, and his vibrato was overpowering to the point that he became unintelligible. And Cody Green (winner of BRAVO's "Step it Up and Dance" ) was only passable as Riff. There were stand-out performances from some of the ensemble in the comic relief songs, "America" and "Gee, Officer Krupke".

I loved the set and the lighting. The sides of the stage were lined with structures that suggested buildings and the windows lit up during scene changes. There was a white screen in the back of the stage that changed color to suggest setting and time of day. I thought the stage elements were well used and that it was kept simple and to the point. All told I thought they made some excellent decisions in this area.

Some people had some strong feelings about the other changes made to the show, so I hope they will share them in the comments. All and all, I give it 3.5 out of 5 Starving Artists (my rating system). It was a great production and a lot of fun, if not amazing or revolutionary. If you saw it, please share your thoughts below.

And in case you are in the mood from some West Side Story-y-goodness, here you go:


  1. Although West Side is certainly not my favorite show, this production was highly entertaining. The addition of Spanish dialogue and entire songs in Spanish was a huge improvement. As a revival, the production was conservative in terms of choreography and setting. The costumes were the biggest disappointment to me and a rejuvenated look would have helped to transform the entire show.

    All aside, the show is classic and the production was very well thought out - sure to put a smile on your face. And, I must give a shout out to the hunky actor who played Tony - his "Maria, Maria, Maria!" was pretty damn soulful.

    Best of luck in NYC, given the sad state of shows on Broadway current~


  2. I went to see West Side Story with a bunch of young students, for whom this was their first time seeing West Side Story, and a bunch of adults, who had seen many versions of it. It's interesting that the students by and by large loved the production while the adults in the group found it non-inspiring. I agree with the Washington Post article. The cast, as of now, is uneven but has the potential to gel (eventually). Maria and Anita are tops; Tony has a lot of room to grow. In particular, Tony's rapport with Maria didn't have the level of comfort that actors who had worked together for a far longer time would have had. Perhaps this will develop as the production heads to Broadway.

    I appreciated the scenes done in Spanish. I was in the audience when the director was dabbling with subtitles and I'm glad that he ultimately decided to ditch them -- they were unnecessary. Maria and Anita were powerful enough actresses that we were able to get the sense of urgency in their performance.

    But, I'm still struck by the fact that the new generation of West Side Story-goers loved this production while the West Side vets were largely unimpressed. West Side is a magical story and nearly everyone remembers their first experience. If this production helped turn on a new generation of theater goers, then it's due for a successful run. Clearly, this is not your father's West Side Story.


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