Chicago, Wednesday, July 27, 2011. Tonight, tonight won’t be just any night. Tonight through August 14th, the tour of the smash-hit Broadway revival of one of the most popular musicals of the 20th century, West Side Story, will command the stage at Chicago’s Cadillac Palace Theatre showcasing what could arguably be one of the best scores ever. The pulsating sounds that combine the unparalleled genius of Leonard Bernstein (music) and Stephen Sondheim (lyrics), in his Broadway debut, are performed by a twenty-piece orchestra conducted by John O’Neill, with music supervisor Patrick Vaccariello.
West Side Story’s amazing compilation of songs including “Tonight”, “Something’s Coming”, “Maria”, “One Hand, One Heart”, “I Feel Pretty”, “A Boy Like That/I Have A Love”, “Somewhere”, “America” and the beloved “Gee, Officer Krupke” could have easily ridden on the coattails of its musical past. Instead, the revival has taken the Grammy-winning Broadway production and improved upon it.
West Side Story, first produced on Broadway in 1957, was a take on Romeo and Juliet with the feuding Montague and Capulet families in a new guise as the rivaling urban gangs–the Jets and the Sharks. Romeo is transformed into Tony (Kyle Harris) and Maria (Ali Ewoldt) becomes the contemporary Juliet. The “What Soft Light” from the famous balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet is expanded into the lyrics for the “Tonight” masterpiece performed in West Side Story.
In the current touring production, the chemistry between Kyle Harris (Tony) and Ali Ewoldt (Maria), which is paramount to any revival of West Side Story, is electric and believable. The choreography, arranged for the original West Side Story by Jerome Robbins, and interpreted here by Joey McKneel held up beautifully throughout this revival with special kudos to Michelle Aravena (Anita) whose dancing, in a word, was sensational. James Youmans’ striking set design is complimented by Howell Binkley’s lighting–both playing a major role in setting the mood and establishing boundaries throughout the production. The director David Saint, whom Laurents chose for the tour, is right-on.
The Spanglish controversy has been the subject of debate since the addition of Spanish, to make the Sharks more authentic, by author Arthur Laurents in the 2009 Broadway revival. For some traditionalists and fans of the original production, the Spanish segments were a turn-off then and even today; while others, including Laurents, liked them. For now, the Spanish has been trimmed and should be a happy compromise for most.
I thought the “Prologue” featuring the rivaling Jets and Sharks could have been stronger. Although solid, it lacked the burning passion that could have launched it into the stratosphere and raised the bar for the entire production. The show does get stronger as it progresses with some showstoppers along the way including the rousing performances of “Dance at the Gym”, “America,” and “Somewhere.”
The current revival of West Side Story will be the last with input by its author, Arthur Laurents, who died shortly before the Chicago production opened–making this an epitaph to his work and a final rumble of sorts. And although it is hard to imagine that West Side Story will go away this does mark the end of an era.
$32 to $95, online at Broadway in Chicago or at all Broadway in Chicago Box Offices, 24 W. Randolph, 151 W. Randolph, 18 W. Monroe and 175 E. Chestnut or by phone at 800 775 2000.
Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph.
2 hours and 30 minutes including one 15 minute intermission.
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