‘West Side Story’: A bombastic revival

West Side Story

In 1957, musical theatre was dramatically changed with the Broadway opening of multi-award winning “West Side Story”. Leonard Bernstein’s music and Jerome Robbins’ choreography raised the bar for musicals forever.
When the first notes of Bernstein’s music rise from the orchestra pit, the excitement and anticipation start to run through the theatre, whether you have or have never seen “West Side Story”. Here we have a new take on an old story, which has enthralled worldwide audiences all these years, both on Broadway and the movies.
The plot is borrowed from William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” and is transported to the gritty west side of New York, where gangs prevail. There are the Puerto Rican “Sharks” and the white, lower class “Jets” vying for turf that neither gang owns, but feel is theirs. The late Arthur Laurents created the book for “West Side Story” more than a half a century ago, and revamped this classic to fit the times.
The original stage version was planned as a story about a Catholic boy falling in love with a Jewish girl. The working title was “East Side Story”. After the boom of Puerto Rican immigration to New York in the late ’40s and ’50s, the story was changed to “West Side Story” and made history as one of the longest running shows in Broadway history.
Be it Puerto Rican, Jewish, white, black or green, Shakespeare and Laurents show how misunderstanding, feuds and discrimination can devastate and change lives.
The beautiful Sondheim songs are there, stunning Bernstein’s music is there, the edginess is there and added is Spanish dialogue.
“Tonight,” “I Feel Pretty”, “Somewhere” and “America” are as fresh today as they were half a century ago.
Robbins’ choreography blasts out with Fourth of July effervescence, reinvented by Joey McKneely with energetic and well trained dancers.
Evy Ortiz as Maria wraps herself in the role with a glorious voice that even Carol Lawrence – the original Maria – did not match. Her performance is innocent and believable. Ross Lekites’ Tony is sweet and genuine and he delivers the gentle mediator with sincere devotion to the score.
Director David Saint recreates this musical/drama with precision and sensitivity. Scenic designer James Youmans and lighting designer Howell Binkley subtly steal the show with their sets and lighting.
If you have never seen “West Side Story”, do yourself a favor and add this classic to your musical favorites. For those who are aficionados, a night at a performance of this “West Side Story” can be fulfilling.

Where: Center For The Performing Arts, 255 Almaden Blvd., SanJose
Through: Jan. 17 – 22
Details: (408) 792-4111, (800) 305-2929 or visit sjtix.com.

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