The “West Side Story” on stage at Proctors in Schenectady this week is not your father’s (or grandfather’s) “West Side Story.” And that’s a good thing.
Certainly Shakespeare’s almost indestructible tale of star-crossed lovers who can’t find happiness in a prejudiced world has endured countless permutations and interpretations over the years. One of which, of course, is “West Side Story,” which made its debut on Broadway more than a half century ago. So maybe it’s time to shake up “WSS,” too.
The current touring production, which continues its run at Proctors through Sunday, is based on director Arthur Laurents’ 2009 Broadway revival, and there are some considerable changes from the original. For instance, some of the dialogue and song lyrics of the Puerto Rican Sharks gang and their gals are now in Spanish. And that works well on stage, bringing a heightening sense of realism to the turf wars.
Another change is that Laurents took the play out of the 1950s and set it in some nebulous, non-specific time period. That doesn’t seem to work as well because except for a few ’70s punk-era costumes, it still looks, sounds and feels very much like the ’50s.
Of course, if anybody’s going to make changes to “WSS,” well, it might as well have been Laurents, who wrote the book – literally – for the original Broadway production.
Fortunately, not everything has changed. Jerome Robbins’ original choreography is thrilling, if not quite as crisp in this production. And, of course, Leonard Bernstein’s music – and the orchestra – simply soars.
This production belongs to Michelle Aravena as Anita, who steals the show from the romantic leads of gang-crossed lovers Tony (Kyle Harris) and Maria (Ali Ewoldt). Filling in as Bernardo on opening night, Michael Scirrotto did a fine job as Sharks’ gang leader Bernardo.
While the current production directed by David Saint doesn’t resonate as deeply as it should, there are still genuinely goosebump-inducing moments of theater. The rumble scene at the end of act one deserves a standing ovation for James Youmans’ set design alone. And “A Boy Like That/I Have a Love,” the act two duet between Anita and Maria, is not only the most musically avant garde moment but also the most deeply emotional scene, worthy of grand opera status.
Photos by Andrzej Pilarczyk.
Bob Goepfert’s review at The Troy Record
Michael Eck’s review at The Times Union
Excerpt from Carol King’s review at The Daily Gazette: “Never mind gorgeous production values thanks to scenic designer James Youmans and lighting designer Howell Binkley, an enduring score and some high-powered acting. The real star of the evening is the original choreography by Jerome Robbins, reproduced for this touring company by Joey McNeeley. From the opening prologue, an extended ballet that defines the major conflict of the story, to the ever-favorite perennial number “America,” to the comical “Gee, Officer Krupke,” the movement on stage is familiar and satisfying.”