Review: National Tour of 'West Side Story' at the Fox

By Christopher Reilly
In Culture

The national tour of “West Side Story” finger-snapped its way into the Fox Theatre last weekend for three days only (though Sunday’s performance was canceled due to the weather), with the 2009 staging of the show, reimagined by original writer Arthur Laurents, who wanted to reflect a grittier reality than was possible in the late 50s when the show was created. The talented young cast were superb dancers and fine singers, and even staunch traditionalists—those who would object to so much as a misplaced line in such an iconic work—will find plenty to like about the reboot.

The Cast of West Side Story Courtesy of the Fox Theatre

The Cast of West Side Story
Courtesy of the Fox Theatre

“Grittier” it is. Some of the lines and lyrics are spoken or sung in Spanish, but judiciously, so it’s not a distraction and does lend an air of authenticity to this tale of rival NYC gangs—the American Jets against the Puerto Rican Sharks—and the forbidden love between a boy and girl of different races. But the occasional Spanish language is just the beginning of the changes that make this version much more primal and raw.

The changes don’t end there. Within the first few minutes, an all-out brawl is underway where normally the gangs are just harassing each other; punches are thrown and a gang member gets hit in the gut with a baseball bat. Actors bleed stage blood, they have bruises, and there are blatant sexual references. Officer Krupke even pulls a gun (for no apparent reason) and there’s a graphic—though stylized—depiction of rape. These are but a few examples that come to mind. For the most part, the updates work.

The Cast of West Side Story Courtesy of the Fox Theatre

The Cast of West Side Story
Courtesy of the Fox Theatre

MaryJoanna Grisso is lovely and charming as Maria, the delicate and precious Puerto Rican ingenue, and she gives a strong, solid performance, while Jarrad Biron Green as her American love interest Tony has a fine voice. They sing some beautiful duets together. Michelle Alves as Anita gives a stand-out performance as well. Most surprising was Anybody’s played by Rosalie Graziano, who in this version sings, “There’s a Place for Us,” while the cast performs a ballet behind her. She not only sings, but has an incredible voice too. Taylor P. Conant as Gabriella, Riff’s girlfriend, also stands out.

The Cast of West Side Story Courtesy of the Fox Theatre

The Cast of West Side Story
Courtesy of the Fox Theatre

In fact, the girls were very solid. “America,” is one of the best numbers in the show. All of the performers excelled at dance and were very strong singers, but unfortunately acting skills were in short supply. The gang members often came off as petulant, whiny frat boys rather that New York City hardened street youth. There was a lot of shoving, fist clenching and “indicating,” as it’s called in the theater, where an actor performs an action—like shoving people—to indicate he’s angry rather than actually “being” angry. Many of the actors didn’t seem to have the life experience to make believable choices about their characters in this non-Equity production.

That being said, the dancing is spectacular enough and the singing special enough, that the production, for the most part transcends, its flaws. The cast is exuberant and sincere, and this production of the show—a collaboration of theatrical giants including music by Leonard Bernstein, choreography by Jerome Robbins and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim—is well worth a trip to the theater.

Photos by Carol Rosegg and Amy Boyle.

Follow Christopher Reilly on Twitter @ChristoReilly

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