Tuesday, June 21, 2011
It doesn't get any better than Bernstein's jazzy, expressive music and Sondheim's endlessly inventive lyrics. In "West Side Story," a latter day Romeo and Juliet fall in love as Tony and Maria; the Montagues and Capulets have become the Jets and the Sharks-- rival American and Puerto Rican gangs on the streets of New York. In this Broadway revival now playing at Boston's Colonial Theatre, the spark is pretty much there, with a few updates and despite some less than stellar performances.
First the updates-- Some lyrics are translated into Spanish: "I Feel Pretty" ("Me Siento Hermosa"), but I missed the snap-crackle-pop of Sondheim's perfect lyrics. And while it makes literal sense to have the Sharks speak Spanish to each other, it cheats the audience in several ways. One, by suspending disbelief, we understand the Puerto Ricans are of course speaking Spanish as easily as we are hearing them, and thus everyone-- non-Spanish speakers included, can understand exactly what's being said. And two, we're robbed of the experience of these warring factions sharing the same universal "emotional" language after all, which is the point of the show; in a sense, a whole symbolic layer is lost. The production also means to be grittier than the original, but the sets and lighting looked too cartoony and clean.
As for the performances? Tony and Maria have great chemistry; together their voices are combustible, the sound curling up to the rafters, especially ignited by Maria's (Ali Ewoldt) smokin' soprano. Michelle Aravena underplays the firey Anita until she's ready to explode-- and then she does in "America" and "A Boy Like That." Would that Riff had more anger, and the Jets seemed more dangerous.
Finally after all the supercharged choreography, opera sized emotion, and passion-fueled songs and embraces, the last scene wrapped up too quickly and fell oddly flat.
But there's plenty here to love, moments of real exhilaration, and the experience of a groundbreaking American classic that still feels painfully real today. See WEST SIDE STORY at the Colonial Theatre thru July 9!
Posted by Joyce Kulhawik at 11:10 PM