TheaterMark Rudio

West Side Story

TheaterMark Rudio

Miss Trixie came up with tickets to see the opening night of West Side Story, the only downside of which was I had to stop watching the Giants pound the crap out of the Rangers- but at least I made it to the sixth inning. What a game!
I wish the roadshow version of Bernstein's and Robbins' masterpiece that got underway at the Orpheum last night for a month-long run was as thrilling but it's not. It's a good show, very good in many ways, but not a great one because of one large and insurmountable problem- the orchestra kind of stinks. Now, if you're not overly familiar with the music (I know at least one person who fits that description) this may not even be noticeable to you, so go and enjoy. If you're more interested in the singing and dancing- go and enjoy. If you love Bernstein's music, you may well be disappointed in how it gets treated here.
The orchestra (ha!) is comprised of sixteen players, conducted by John O'Neill, and it just sounds weak and underpowered. "America," "Gee Officer Krupke," were flaccid and "Cool" just never really got hot. The "Dance at the Gym" scene worked really well because of great choreography and dancing, despite the anemic sounding orchestra- it was the one part where it's easy to overlook there's a gaping hole in this revival and it's down in the pit.

The cast is wonderful: Jospeh Simoene's Riff, German Santiago's Bernardo, Michelle Aravena's Anita and Ali Ewoldt's Maria all managed to walk that delicate line of portraying these characters as we expect them to be yet managed to put their own stamp of individuality on them. Kyle Harris as Tony didn't fare as well- lacking the charisma of the other principals. The rest of the cast were extremely well-rehearsed in the choreography and are solid in the vocal department.

The staging is perfect- reflective of the era but with modern touches that make the stage look gorgeous at times and menacing at others. The lighting creates a perfect ambiance and this is a darker West Side Story than we are used to seeing. Miss Trixie didn't like the costumes for the Sharks girls, thinking they should have been in pencil skirts with slits, but I never realized she was right until she said so. Huge kudos to Joey McKneely for doing a fantastic job with Robbins' choreography. David Sant's take on the reboot of Arthur Laurent's Broadway production direction was invisible- perfect for this show.

As you can see there is a lot that is really great here, so go- I recommend it. Even a WSS with only lukewarm music is going to be better than almost anything else you spend an evening seeing. As for this production being "groundbreaking" I can't validate that- the idea of Puerto Rican characters speaking Spanish onstage (in limited amounts) is hardly worth taking note of- at least in California. Cutting some of the more comedic elements and making it noticeably darker in tone and implications works very well and that this is seamlessly done is a testament to the strength of the material. These twists- something that wouldn't have ever been attempted in the 1950's- seems appropriate now, not radical. Some of the dialogue sounds dated of course to contemporary ears, but this show is no museum piece. What takes place on the stage is alive and vibrant.

I just wish the same could found in the pit. Nevertheless, West Side Story is an essential work of American theater and music. You'd be foolish to miss it.