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West Side Story
a Musical
by Book - Arthur Laurents; Lyrics - Stephen Sondheim; Music - Leonard Bernstein

COMPANY : Broadway Across America [WEBSITE]
VENUE : The Fabulous Fox [WEBSITE]
ID# 3941

SHOWING : January 25, 2011 - January 30, 2011



More than fifty years ago one musical changed theater forever. Now it's back, and mesmerizing audiences once again. From the first note to the final breath, "West Side Story" soars as the greatest love story of all time. Directed by its two-time Tony Award-winning librettist Arthur Laurents, "West Side Story" remains as powerful, poignant and timely as ever. The new Broadway cast album of "West Side Story" recently won the 2010 Grammy Award for Best Musical Show Album. The Bernstein and Sondheim score is considered to be one of Broadway's finest and features such classics of the American musical theatre as "Something's Coming," "Tonight," "America," "I Feel Pretty" and "Somewhere."

“So exciting IT MAKES YOU ACHE WITH PLEASURE.” –John Lahr, The New Yorker

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A College-Quality Production
by playgoer
Sunday, January 30, 2011
The "West Side Story" I saw at the Fox Theatre on Sunday could not have been the same production Wendell Brock glowingly reviewed for the AJC. The production I saw was adequate at best. The fact that leading man Kyle Harris was replaced by Ted Ely mid-act may have had something to do with the haphazard impression the show made, but it really was not a fine production.

The musical starts with recent musical theatre graduates stepping out onto the stage as if they're getting ready for a rehearsal ("A Chorus Line," maybe?). These are not street thugs; they're musical theatre performers. When they start dancing (in highly stylized, choppy choreography), it's like we've dropped in on a student-produced dance recital. When they start singing, well, you get some of the grittiness that should have been evident in the characterizations and dancing. It isn't pretty.

Vocal problems plague the show. Kyle Harris, while appearing to be perfectly cast as Tony in terms of looks, acting, and vocal power in his lower register, had absolutely no power in his upper range. Perhaps he was sick. Replacement Ted Ely, though, also sounded strained on his uppermost note. The women don't have pretty voices either. Ali Ewoldt, as Maria, has power, but in almost a Chinese Opera sort of way that doesn't sit well on the notes of Leonard Bernstein's melodies. The standout, by default, was Michelle Aravena as Anita, whose overall performance was fine by any standards, but wouldn't have been the pinnacle of the production were she not surrounded by unimpressive performers.

Other elements of the show are also lacking. One of the most basic is the blocking of the performers by director David Saint. Much of the dialogue and song is delivered in complete profile or even upstage. When faces are then turned to the audience for a portion of a song, the contrast is laughably artificial. Costumes, by David C. Woolard, and hairstyles, by Mark Adam Rampmeyer, have little or nothing to do with the 1950's. The actors might as well have been told to take care of their clothes and hair themselves.

This is a dance-heavy show, and a pattern is quickly established (and endlessly repeated) of having the undistinguished stage pieces (designed by James Youmans) moved out of the way for a dance sequence, then replaced as the number comes to a close and dialogue is about to resume. Drastic changes in lighting (designed by Howell Binkley) do nothing to minimize the obviousness of these moves.

Even what's good about the show works against providing a good impression. The "Gee, Officer Krupke" number is inventively staged, but moves into lewdness at points. The mambo in the "Dance at the Gym" is sporadically effective in terms of movement, but the costuming, blocking, and casting of the Anglos and Puerto Ricans aren't sufficiently distinct to make the underlying tension clear. The interior of Doc's drugstore is more visually interesting than most set pieces, but it sports a dartboard on the back of the entrance door, so any rushing customer is at risk for a puncture wound to the heart.

The story and songs of "West Side Story" come through sufficiently well in the production to convey the authors' intentions. It's a case, though, of the material working in spite of the production, rather than being enhanced by it. Having some of the dialogue and lyrics in Spanish really does no harm; if the audience misses part of the meaning, it's just one more missed opportunity in this lackluster production of an American musical classic. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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